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August 14, 2007 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Debtor Nation. The rising risks of the American Dream, on a borrowed dime.
posted by four panels (96 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
We are so screwed.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:53 PM on August 14, 2007


We are so screwed.

The comptroller general of the US would agree with you.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 12:57 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


I blame the people richer than me. And the people poorer than me.
posted by hermitosis at 1:05 PM on August 14, 2007 [5 favorites]


It seems like real-estate has a tendency to 'soak up all available wealth' in an area. People don't worry about the cost of the mortgage, just about whether or not they can make the payments.

Once people buy in to the system, they have a vested interest in seeing housing prices increase (depending on their property tax rate, I suppose)

I think it's a pretty poor system, and I suppose it might seem a little 'communist' but it just seems like a way to enslave the middle class. In order to live comfortably, they have to pay x% of their paycheck, which becomes an anchor around their neck.

If I were a dictator, I would mandate that people can only spend, say, twice their annual salary on a house. So a person making $40k could only buy an $80k house. That would, I think, cause housing prices to drop. People who wanted to invest would have to do so in other things (hey, diversification!). Then they could have their houses paid off in 5-10 years, rather then 30. And then people would never have to worry about being evicted (again Dependant on property taxes).

Middle class people who saw their 'investment' collapse under this regime would receive annual payments from the government for a number of years to make up for the value lost.

But, I'm not a dictator.
posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


If only there were some way to save maybe a billion or two every week, perhaps we'd make some headway on healthcare costs adn spiraling infrastructure.

Oh and by the way, I just heard that the new I-35 bridge in MN will not have bike or ped lanes; how wondeful.
posted by Mister_A at 1:07 PM on August 14, 2007


It just pisses me off because people like myself, who have, crave, aspire to, and borrow practically NOTHING will still have to paw through garbage for dinner just like everyone else.
posted by hermitosis at 1:10 PM on August 14, 2007 [6 favorites]


Sorry, but the comptroller lost me the minute he started bitching about "declining moral values." Like it's my fault for not believing in Jesus that people don't know how to put the credit cards down.

While I certainly don't think that it's at all unlikely that we'll encounter serious economic ramifications from what is going on right now, I think it's also probably not the best idea to be all "bawk bawk the sky is falling." I think, as in most things, the truth lies somewhere in between, and if my great-grandparents made it through the Depression, I am pretty sure I can make it through a couple of hard years as well.

Things are never actually as bad or as good as people predict. But that doesn't really make for very good copy.
posted by mckenney at 1:11 PM on August 14, 2007


JESUS SAVES!

Preferably in high yield returning bonds..
posted by cavalier at 1:18 PM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]


It's shocking to me how many people don't seem to understand that if you don't have enough money to buy something it should mean you don't buy it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


I live in an area that has a higher-than-average income, per capita, but over the past three years I've noticed a sharp increase in the numbers of BMWs, Mercedes and Lexuses on the road, enough so that some days I feel like I'm the only person in the valley that drives a clunker. I'm even seeing Lamborghinis and Lotus on a regular basis, enough so that they barely register.

At first I thought that it was just a matter of where I live; of course there are going to be a lot of expensive cars on the road in a wealthy community. But recently I've been wondering how many of them have been financed directly, or in part, by the unusual state of the economy. And I wonder what's going to happen when the money isn't flowing quite as freely as it does now. People here have been feasting like the banquet will never end. I hope it doesn't, because, like hermitosis points out, when things go bad they'll go bad for everyone and jealousy disgused as class-consciousness won't make the coming years any better.
posted by lekvar at 1:21 PM on August 14, 2007


If I were a dictator, I would mandate that people can only spend, say, twice their annual salary on a house . . . People who wanted to invest would have to do so in other things (hey, diversification!).

That's brilliant! That would be a way to dump billions of dollars into capital investment rather into real estate speculation. Even if a business fails, at least it created jobs and innovation, unlike a real estate property that's nothing better than a lotto ticket.
posted by hodyoaten at 1:22 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


please, let's leave Jesus out of it for now. in the article, i took the 'decline of moral values' comment as comparison to the Roman Empire, which became more focused on decadence in its waning days and less on its democratic values and ideals.

i look at the prevalence of maxing your credit cards and cashing out the remaining equity in your home to buy a new Hummer and a big screen tv as the new equivalent. morally bankrupt.
posted by uaudio at 1:22 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


Another example of why the free-market can't work. America has nothing resembling a free-market, yet adults can't manage their own lives in a responsible manner. I don't know if it is due to the rise in atheism, but there sure is a lot of acceptance of debt nowadays. Bringing back debtor's prison is a wise solution. People who don't pay their debts are thieves and quite possibly immoral. Not everyone of course, people going into debt because of healthcare costs are quite different than the immoral sort.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 1:30 PM on August 14, 2007


mckenney, what makes you think his 'moral values' are referring to Jesus-belief?
posted by anthill at 1:32 PM on August 14, 2007


Mister_A: Seeing as how neither pedestrians nor bikes are allowed on interstate highways, I'm not sure why the new I-35 bridge should set space aside for them.
posted by thewittyname at 1:34 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


“Consider the fact that in China they invest more than 40 percent of GDP. That means they are not consuming it, so their standard of living could be much higher. This is very much a political-economy problem, because the elites enjoy a perfectly fine standard of living,” he says. In broad terms, “The Asian currencies need to appreciate, and the Asian economies need to become less dependent on export-driven growth by cultivating domestic demand, which means raising living standards in these countries.”

Sounds like a great idea. Too bad it's impossible. The PRC currently -- meaning right now -- consumes more energy per year than the entire European Union. At this very moment the Chinese are building, on average, two coal-fired power plants per week. Raising China to anything near a first-world standard of living would require more energy than this planet can possibly supply with anything less than Star-Trek level technology.

This is one of the things that kills me about rabid free-marketeers. Whenever you tell them "Sorry, but the laws of physics and the physical size of the Earth have put an upper bound on possible economic growth." they just wave their hands and say "The market will take care of it! Technology will save us!"

Well since dilithium crystals aren't real, I think I can safely say "no, it won't".
posted by Avenger at 1:34 PM on August 14, 2007 [7 favorites]


Sorry, but the comptroller lost me the minute he started bitching about "declining moral values."

Just because he made a remark about moral values (Mark Foley? Tom Vitter? Ted Stevens? Paris Hilton? etc, etc) and political civility (ever watch Fox News?) doesn't make everything else he says invalid. This country is digging a really deep hole for itself fiscally, and seems to be perfectly content to continue digging. And you can add to that whatever costs will be incurred dealing with global warming.

If you look at the sheer magnitude of the problems, it might not be just a couple hard years you have to suffer through, but maybe instead a couple hard decades, or longer.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 1:35 PM on August 14, 2007


"Immoral" is telling people that they need to spend to keep the economy rolling along, making credit super easy to get, allowing unqualified people to borrow beyond their real means to pay back, making huge profits on fees and interest, then looking to the government for a bailout when the whole house of cards collapses.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons? Bah, perhaps they'll just die, and so decrease the surplus population.
posted by aramaic at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2007 [5 favorites]


Another example of why the free-market can't work. America has nothing resembling a free-market, yet adults can't manage their own lives in a responsible manner. I don't know if it is due to the rise in atheism, but there sure is a lot of acceptance of debt nowadays. Bringing back debtor's prison is a wise solution. People who don't pay their debts are thieves and quite possibly immoral. Not everyone of course, people going into debt because of healthcare costs are quite different than the immoral sort.

You know, GN, maybe I'm mistaken, but I do seem to (vaguely) recall a time when your posts were at least somewhat lucid and occasionally even comprehensible. Have those "healthcare costs" prevented you from obtaining proper medications?

Please consider making an appointment with a primary care physician. I'm actually not kidding about that.
posted by Avenger at 1:45 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why the fuck do we even let that troll post?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:46 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Think about how much money the government (and country) would have if the estate tax were raised. Yes, congratulations, you made a lot of money in your life. You can still give half of what you used to own to your kids or whoever, but the rest becomes the property of the state to be dispersed evenly and judiciously amongst the people and programs that need it. But of course that kind of mandated socialism would require a change in philosophy - even possibly morality - that I doubt the current American generation has the balls for. Most Americans think that they'll eventually be rich and that the government is evil. The combination of these two things means that we can't have nice things. In fact, it means that they fall apart.
posted by billysumday at 1:47 PM on August 14, 2007


mckenney writes "Sorry, but the comptroller lost me the minute he started bitching about 'declining moral values.'"

You should've read on. He goes on to include an "over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government."

He's comparing the US to the declining Roman empire, and say what you will about the morals, but the last two points are spot on.
posted by mullingitover at 1:48 PM on August 14, 2007


This relates to something I've been wondering about recently. Why is it that we have to spend so much money just to be happy (if we are happy at all without our antidepressants)? Not to delve too much into rabid anti-consumerism Adbusters-esque territory, but why is consumerism so tightly linked to our joy?

It hasn't always been like this, has it? What changed?
posted by mjbraun at 1:52 PM on August 14, 2007


thewittyname:

So what? It doesn't take a lot of imagination to think of ways to make the bridge accessible to ped/foot traffic.
posted by Mister_A at 1:52 PM on August 14, 2007


The American Dream isn't about getting everything you can get. It's about making good on one's own hard work. Seems to be the antithesis of what's being discussed here. (Sorry for the obvious Wikipedia link, but I'm a newbie.)
posted by kindalike at 1:53 PM on August 14, 2007


It's about making good on one's own hard work.

Ha ha ha. Fools.
posted by Artw at 1:54 PM on August 14, 2007


Why the fuck do we even let that troll post?

I almost posted that exact same comment in a different thread earlier today... The dude will bend over backwards, contradicting his own previously stated positions, to get people's blood-pressure up. Flag it and move on has been my approach.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:54 PM on August 14, 2007


Sorry, Gonstic Novelist. People who get into debt AREN'T thieves. Do you know the extent to which credit is dangled under people's noses as an easy solution to their problems?

A while back my sister and her boyfriend worked for a prominent credit company. He worked in phone sales, where they would call people indexed by income, often veterans and the elderly, and pitch credit cards to them over the phone. My sister worked in collections, getting the same people several months later when they couldn't pay. She said it was the worst and most heartbreaking job she ever had.

Plenty of people abuse the economy, but it abuses back just as much and just as hard.
posted by hermitosis at 2:02 PM on August 14, 2007


anthill Probably because most conservatives mean Jesus-belief when they talk about "moral values".

The funny thing, well ok not funny at all more like revolting, is that "morals", as used by the right wing in their writings and casual conversation seems to simply mean "obedience to the sexual taboos I endorse, lip service paid to the dominant religion, and cheerful obedience by inferiors to superiors". Never once do they use the term "immoral" to, for example, describe the behavior of an employer who pays less than a living wage. Or to describe racism.

In fact, if you ask most of them if the 1950's was a more moral time, and if in the 1950's Texas was more moral than New York City, they'd say yes. So obviously brutally oppressing black people doesn't count as immoral in their book...

Avenger I both agree and disagree. On the one hand, you are mostly right. On the other hand, you aren't quite. I agree fully that the free market worshipers are far too unwilling to consider reality. On the other hand, technology has staved off disasters in the past, and it seems reasonable to assume it will again in the future.

Take food, as an example. Back in the late 1940's many people were predicting severe food shortages, and their predictions were quite sensable. Based on population growth figures and farm production figures the prediction was entirely sensable. But tech did come to the rescue, the intensive use of irrigation opened huge tracts of land for farming that otherwise couldn't be used, the development of petrolium based fertilizers and new hybrids increased crop yield.

The fact that China is building so many coal plants is not good, in the second place they'll run out [1] eventually, and in the first place its an environmental nightmare (most coal burned in China is high sulphur "yellow coal", which results in acid rain, which kills fish, reduces crop yields, contributes to deforestation (already a problem, and results in mudslides), etc.)

But to argue that it is impossible to, eventually, produce an economy that results in first world standards of living for everyone is defeatist. I'll concede that it will take work, but really it wouldn't even take breakthrough technology, just refinement of current tech. Rather than using coal, China could, for example, begin building fission plants. I'm not a big fan of fission, but I like it better than coal for the simple reason that fission isn't a major contributor to air pollution.

Furthermore, energy research is being vigorously persued by several nations (the US, regrettably is not one of them), mostly the first world nations that lack fossil fuel reserves (ie: France, Japan, etc). When you throw enough money at a research problem, it usually produces results. I see no reason why we should assume that the money we're throwing at the energy problem won't pay off, the only question really is when, not if.

We don't need Star Trek to produce a first world Earth, fusion alone could do it, and that really is looking more and more likely to pay off soonish. If not fusion something else.

On Topic Americans have been trained to accept a level of debt that most people elsewhere would blanch at. In large part this is due, I think, to the fact that we're offering far too much protection to creditors. Time was they were cautious and would only extend credit to a person if they thought the person had a reasonable chance of paying them back. Thanks to the various bankruptcy reform laws the creditors now have no incentive to be careful, and its in their financial best interest to offer large amounts of credit to people who may not have much chance of paying it off. This is especially true WRT home loans. I think that as a good first step we need to re-reform the bankruptcy laws so that the creditors need to be a bit more choosy.

[1] For the inevitable jackass: yes I know they won't actually run out in the sense of "there is no more coal left in the ground", I'm using "run out" as a convenient shorthand for "it will become financially impractical to continue to mine what little coal remains". That's what most people mean when they refer to running out of natural resources, and you know it perfectly well so either make a real argument or shut up.
posted by sotonohito at 2:03 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bringing back debtor's prison is a wise solution.

Oh yeah? If they bring back debtor's prison, the entirety of the American government should be first to go in. I don't see anyone else drawing trillion dollar bar tabs.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:07 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


(And yes, I realize that putting the government into federal prison is essentially putting it inside itself, which topologically speaking would make it more like a Klein bottle than an eye-pyramid thing.)
posted by kid ichorous at 2:11 PM on August 14, 2007 [5 favorites]


Mister_A: Given the speeds at which people travel on interstate highways, it is not a simple task to safely segregate foot and pedestrian traffic from highway traffic. And, the expense of doing so seems wasteful given that there is a pedestrian (and possibly bike) accessible bridge, the Cedar Avenue Bridge, not more than 100 feet away from where the new I-35 bridge will be located.
posted by thewittyname at 2:14 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


but the rest becomes the property of the state to be dispersed evenly and judiciously amongst the people and programs that need it.

Yeah - KBR, Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman, DARPA, DHS, the list goes on.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2007


"We don't need Star Trek to produce a first world Earth, fusion alone could do it, and that really is looking more and more likely to pay off soonish. If not fusion something else."

Yep, in just about 50 years now! Yep, about 50 years. You'll see! In 50 years!

Something else, huh? Quantum singularities? Zero-point field? Incredible, laws-of-physics breaking discovery in photovoltaics?

Meesa thinkin' no. Sorry.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:29 PM on August 14, 2007


Americans have been trained to accept a level of debt that most people elsewhere would blanch at. In large part this is due, I think, to the fact that we're offering far too much protection to creditors.
True enough.
Though, to be fair, the rest of the world would blanch at our debt because they live within systems that actually pick-up the tab for things like healthcare and, to a large degree, education. Americans, on the other hand, are simply nickel-and-dimed at every turn. It's like living living on Ferenginar sometimes.

It seems that the US is hell-bent on proving the superiority of free-market capitalism, even if it kills us...or, at the very least, puts us all out on the street.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:33 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


kid ichorous Oh yeah? If they bring back debtor's prison, the entirety of the American government should be first to go in. I don't see anyone else drawing trillion dollar bar tabs

I was thinking about that after I made my post. The government is the worst offender of all. I would get upset about it, but there is nothing I can do so emotions are pointless. Americans like fiscal recklessness (depending on how you word it) and that will be the death of the country.

I don't understand what is so hard about being responsible and saving. Oddly enough, people are punished heavily for not paying taxes, yet get off light when they victimize a creditor.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 2:46 PM on August 14, 2007


given that there is a pedestrian (and possibly bike) accessible bridge, the Cedar Avenue Bridge

And just a few more hundred feet down, the bike and pedestrian Northern Pacitic bridge, and then upstream, the Stone Arch Bridge. I think they've got the bike/ped thing covered.
posted by zsazsa at 2:47 PM on August 14, 2007


lekvar : I'm even seeing Lamborghinis and Lotus on a regular basis, enough so that they barely register.

That's not entirely fair, a Lotus is a $50k car, a Lamborghini is a $200k car.

Lotuses are really cool, but a high end BMW or Mercedes will set you back more.

Not that this in any way invalidates your point.
posted by quin at 2:47 PM on August 14, 2007


I don't get what that last link (Fed Resrv) is supposed to mean. There's certainly a lot of numbers.

Can someone summarize?
posted by unixrat at 2:52 PM on August 14, 2007


And just a few more hundred feet down, the bike and pedestrian Northern Pacitic bridge, and then upstream, the Stone Arch Bridge. I think they've got the bike/ped thing covered.

Can we borrow one of them? I can't even get to Oakland from San Francisco without using motor transportation. Embarrassing ...
posted by mrgrimm at 2:54 PM on August 14, 2007


Gnostic Novelist: that's a vestigial remnant of our society's disapproval of usury.
posted by boo_radley at 3:03 PM on August 14, 2007


zoogleplex There's no need to be a condesending asshole you know.

There are numerous realworld technologies that could work. Widespread adoption of fission would help, though it certainly has drawbacks as well. Ultimately all energy comes from the sun, which makes solar a possibility except for the inconvenient atmosphere in the way. Orbital solar generators are another possibility, albiet one with some technological hurdles to overcome (the first, of course, being the expense (in energy terms, nevermind dollars for now) of boosting enough solar panels into LEO to make it worthwhile).

But, oh condesending one, what choice do we have but to try and solve the energy problem? Or are we to just decide that a decent way of life is a fleeting moment in history and once we run out of fossil fuels resign ourselves to medieval squalor? Meesa thinks that sounds like a pretty shitty plan, jackass.

I'll concede that people have been saying that fusion is just around the corner for several decades now. I'll maintain, however, that if we'd thrown more money at it from the beginning we'd be further along than we are now. Research is expensive, and the abundance of fossil fuels put fusion research down near the bottom of the priority list. Moreover, there've been some advances lately that are looking quite hopeful. They're up to around 98% efficency, and once they get to even 101% its all gravy. At the rate efficiency of the reaction has been increasing since the first reactors, it really isn't unreasonable or pie-in-the-sky to say it might, really and truly, be only a decade or so before we see commercial fusion.

But if not that, then *something*. Fusion and orbital solar look like good avenues to persue, and they're the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure that others exist that I don't know of, and I think that we (as a society and government) ought to be throwing basketfulls of money at any research that looks like it can solve the problem. Take even 10% of the Iraq budget and apply it to energy and it doesn't seem at all unreasonable to assume that we'll develop a solution before peak oil drives us back to the middle ages.

On Topic: C'mon people, stop feeding the troll. There's nothing you can say that won't make Gnostic Novelest stop pining for the 18th century, its best to ignore him.
posted by sotonohito at 3:13 PM on August 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


If I were a dictator, I would mandate that people can only spend, say, twice their annual salary on a house. So a person making $40k could only buy an $80k house.

We Single Taxers / Geolibertarians / Georgists think we have the answer. . . Tax site values sufficiently to remove the speculative premium and unearned increments inherent in the real estate market, such that housing investment will be forced into capital (the fixed improvements) instead than just inflationary dead-weight land values and attempts to parasitically profit off of other peoples' productive labors.

IMV this solution makes too much sense to ever gain traction. Vanilla libertarians with sufficent investments in their land attack it as Maoism.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:15 PM on August 14, 2007


boo_radley Gnostic Novelist: that's a vestigial remnant of our society's disapproval of usury.

Has American society ever been truly anti-usury (outside of a few pockets)? I ask because it's hard to have a pro-business environment without having a sympathetic stance toward usury. I thought the whole anti-usury belief was rather European.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 3:20 PM on August 14, 2007


Bringing back debtor's prison is a wise solution.

Oh, we have a newly-constructed debtors prison system . . . everyone who bought or cash-out refi'd 2004-2006 now has their own personal joint to cool their heels in for the next 5-15 years.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:21 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


The last century (at least the last half of it) was an "American century". While it is true that the next century may not be an American one debt, is IMHO a minor problem for the US. The dollar will sooner or later collapse, as do all FIAT currencies sooner or later (guess why the ownership of Gold was forbidden in the 3rd Reich and in the US until 1973). The FED prints two zillion dollar bills, sends one to the Chinese and one to the Japanese, all debts are paid and we can start all over again with an equity/commodity backed currency. It is even likely that the gretest debtors will be the greatest beneficiaries in such a situation.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:27 PM on August 14, 2007


Not to put too fine a point on this, but we are in huge debt to China, and that is what allows us to fight the good fight in Iraq and help bring the benefits of our system to the region
posted by Postroad at 3:38 PM on August 14, 2007


mjbraun asked: Why is it that we have to spend so much money just to be happy (if we are happy at all without our antidepressants)? Not to delve too much into rabid anti-consumerism Adbusters-esque territory, but why is consumerism so tightly linked to our joy?

I don't watch TV. My joy isn't linked to consuming products. Or owning things. My joy is linked to doing things.

Please, I don't say this from a position of superiority, because I'm not. I'm just some guy. Hell knows I have problems. But it's important to me, because, really, the consumerism and television and unhappiness things is very tightly linked.

*grabs soapbox, clears throat*

Sorry, but Adbusters is right: Because television tells you to.

YOUR TELEVISION IS LYING TO YOU. YOUR TELEVISION HATES YOU. YOUR TELEVISION THINKS YOU'RE STUPID, AND IT WANTS TO ENSLAVE YOU.

Now, before you run off and dismiss me as a raving tinfoil-hatted lunatic, please allow me to elucidate with less capital letters. If only for my own selfish goals of desiring to live in a world that isn't totally fucking crazy.

Yes, I'm angry. I feel like I live in a sea of brain-ravenous zombies. I've walked through the quiet twilight in cities and towns of all sorts big and small and watched the ghostly, flashing blue flicker from nearly every home and room I saw. And no people.

There's a certain Ray Bradbury short story about this, and a book as well - and I shouldn't have to experience it as a reality. No one should.

I'm angry. You, frankly, should also be angry. Very angry. You're being robbed.

Television isn't real. "Well, duh", you mutter.

However, for many people in the world and in the US, television has made reality fictional and the fictional, reality.

This is very bad. Sometimes to me it feels like some kind of fucked up collective exestential crisis of a magnitude that would shock even Orwell or Huxley to tears and gibbering madness.

Let me repeat that in a different way. Television has fictionalized its watchers. Many watchers of television believe that anything on television is somehow more real than their own experiences.

Television constantly hammers one single message home, over and over again: YOU'RE UNHAPPY.

That's it. That's what the message of television boils down to. That you're unhappy. Look, this isn't rocket science. Turn off the blinders, open your eyes and actually analyze the language that is being used. YOU'RE UNHAPPY.

But it's more insidious then that. If it was only saying that you're unhappy, we'd probably all ignore it, or better, destroy all the TVs, or take back the airwaves for our own.

But it's worse. Television tears you down and then throws you a rope.

YOU NEED MORE STUFF TO BE HAPPY. WE KNOW YOU'RE UNHAPPY. BUYING MORE STUFF WILL MAKE USYOU HAPPY. BUY MORE STUFF. HAPPY. STUFF. BUY. STUFF. BE HAPPY WITH MORE STUFF. YOU'RE INCOMPLETE AND UNHAPPY WITHOUT MORE STUFF.

A rope to hang yourself with, for sure.

This is, of course, really fucking stupid. Stuff will never make you happy.

You know that creeping disappointment that sets in after whatever shiny thing you bought dulls and no longer gets you (human) attention for owning it and coveting it, after you realize you've fooled yourself (maybe for a little while) yet again...

You should listen to that. It's real and valid and important.

That cycle, not the lack of stuff, is the source of the pervasive "dissatisfaction" you speak of, which I paraphrase.

Worse, television forces the watcher into inactivity. The watchers stop experiencing their own experiences. They forget what it is to do and be, themselves.

Television tells you to forget how incredibly powerful just simply living is - yet television somehow carefully never forgets to remind them how painful reality is.

Thus, television dulls the senses in cotton - the process of mediation and mediated experience - the lack of reality, the lack of true pain, terror, as well as true bliss and joy. All they have are the gauzy, fleeting illusions and colored shadows of highly amplified emotional scenarios.

Violence, infidelity - themes to enrage and titillate to break through televisions handicap of mediation, themes that resort to tried-and-true lowest common denominations of emotional manipulation and response - for there is nothing else that works in such a clumsy, stupid medium.

Television is your energy-sucking co-dependent alcoholic aunt with the bitter, acid, tongue and the pleasures of watching you fail.

Television is the vampiric, sneaking thief you happily invite into your home for dinner.

Television robs you of your time, your individuality, your wallet and money, your freedoms and innovations.

Kill it. Kill your television. Drive a stake right through its sick, black heart. Kill it before it kills you. Kill it before it kills all of us.

We would also do well to remember that "television", by and large, is indeed actually owned by a number of extremely large conglomerates and corporations that have historically proven themselves to not have our best interests in mind or the purest motives on the agenda. When you watch certain channels, the parent company that owns a given network often owns a vast majority of sub-companies that make the products being sold - or have deeply structured shareholdings in the companies in question.

Do the math.



For the debaters and pedants: don't go replacing the word "television" with "book" for the purposes of clever debate. Your own imagination - with or without a book - is much more useful to you than the passivist pabulum of television. Also, "stuff" does not equal "tools" or access to them, or sharing them, or using them. Go do something! Make art, or dance... make a toy! Go play a game. Sing a song. Try something new! Hell, fritter away your free time staring out the window and imagining passerby in silly hats. Anything! Just turn off that goddamn shit-talking idiot box once and for all!
posted by loquacious at 3:39 PM on August 14, 2007 [61 favorites]


"But, oh condesending one, what choice do we have but to try and solve the energy problem?"

None. Or, well really, do it or face massive de-civilization.

"Or are we to just decide that a decent way of life is a fleeting moment in history and once we run out of fossil fuels resign ourselves to medieval squalor? Meesa thinks that sounds like a pretty shitty plan, jackass."

I agree with you. There's lots of things we can start doing, and we should do all of them, including continuing fusion research, which at this point takes very little money relative to everything else. I'm just not going to get excited about fusion (and IMO, neither should anyone else) until the researchers can get a break-even reaction to sustain for, say, 10 minutes instead of a fraction of a second; from 50 years from that point I'd give the chance of a fusion-powered world a 50/50 chance of happening.

I think the main places we should start are in trying to multiply the efficiency of our energy use by substantial factors, so we can stretch out all the sources of energy we have now.

The problem is that this debt-submerged society we're living in is founded on the up-to-now "solid bedrock" of there being more energy available to use every year, thus allowing more productivity and more consumption to occur every year. The entire notion of the "growth economy" is fundamentally based on this, to wit:

I lend you $1,000. You are able to take that $1000 and make a bunch of things that you can sell for $2000 next year. I get back my $1000 plus, say, $100 interest, and you make $900 profit.

The reason you're able to make all that stuff that sells for $2000 is that you have super-cheap energy which runs machinery that allows you to make your stuff for $1000 or less. As little as 200 years ago, you wouldn't have had that machinery; you'd have had to do the work by hand, and maybe you could only have sold what you produced for $1100, and I wouldn't have been able to make enough profit from lending you the money to make it worth my while.

All that machinery you used was developed and refined over time using all that cheap energy, too.

This is what our debt economy is based on.

What we seem to be facing now is the reverse of the energy trend; things seem to be flattening out, perhaps even declining. The economy is likely to keep growing for a while even if the energy declines, because of inertia, so we probably won't notice for a while.

In order to continue with our present economy, we need to find and produce more energy every year. Period.

I'm sorry that I snarked you so hard, but I have a lot of trouble taking anyone who throws fusion into the ring as a viable solution, for the reasons I state above. Sure, they're making progress, but even if they are successful in an energy-positive sustained fusion reaction tomorrow, it will still be 50 years or more before fusion plants are taking up the mantle of powering our civilization.

I'm a huge Trek fan, I'm even with you to a certain extent on orbital solar, but the fact is that technological development alone is not going to haul our sorry monkey asses out of this mess. Technology is not energy; also, every advance we've made in technology has required MORE energy to power it.

What we really need to do is to get our energy priorities straight. We need to put the most energy into the things that are the most important, and dial up the efficiency to boot. Especially dial up the efficiency. We could probably cut energy use by 50% or better in the Western world and still maintain a similar standard of living on average.

That would free up more energy to continue a growth economy, that's for sure.

Wait til you see the next "bubble." We did dot-coms, now real estate... lots of people are calling the next one the "Green Bubble." Maybe it will actually do some good, as opposed to being a massive wealth-sucking Ponzi scheme.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Damnit, lost a nested small tag somewhere. Now my rant looks extra-cranky. Oh well.
posted by loquacious at 3:48 PM on August 14, 2007


Huh. Didn't take Bush and company long to trash the place, huh? That Onion article about "at last an end to our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity" is beginning to look less satirical and more prophetic.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on August 14, 2007


Woops sorry, this should read:

"I'm sorry that I snarked you so hard, but I have a lot of trouble taking anyone seriously who throws fusion into the ring as a viable solution, for the reasons I state above."
posted by zoogleplex at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2007


> Paul Blustein, a financial reporter for the Washington Post who wrote And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out),
> describes a vivid scene after the crash when a truck carrying Angus steers overturned on a highway: a crowd of
> machete-wielding shantytown residents slaughtered and butchered them, fighting each other for the bloody
> chunks of meat.

Being a Harvard publication, it probably won't want to mention the night Leverett House fell over and the machete-wielding hoards from Somerville and Brookline didn't go home hungry.
posted by jfuller at 4:15 PM on August 14, 2007


However, for many people in the world and in the US, television has made reality fictional and the fictional, reality.

At lunch today, I was stunned to learn that 3 of the 11 coworkers present knew the names of all Hugh Hefner's current girlfriends -- ostensibly as a result of some reality show.
posted by Slothrup at 4:18 PM on August 14, 2007


Good rant, loquacious. Go ahead and be cranky, this is worth it.

You point out another side of the problem; the people with the vested interest in selling you as much crap as they possibly can (which they can make more of every year with more cheap energy) have refined the art of mind-tricking people from a distance to a spectacular degree.

Most people have been programmed to believe buying stuff, and then throwing that stuff out to buy more stuff (or, not throwing it out requiring buying bigger houses and storage units, which are just another form of "more stuff" to be sold), will somehow make them happy and fulfill their lives. There has been an extraordinary amount of effort expended by advertising agencies and marketing departments to determine exactly how to get people to buy more and more and more and more stuff.

For christ's sake, half the people I know buy a NEW. CAR. every THREE. YEARS. Tons of raw materials, tons of energy, tons of advertising dollars expended on every car.

Actually they don't "buy" the new car - they just go into debt for it. They trade in the "old" car, on which they usually owe more than it will get in a trade (or any other type of sale), to go into another round of debt with the last debt added in. Debt debt debt. Or they lease, which is just another way to throw money out the window.

The lesson is, of course, stop buying all that crap, just buy what you need and maybe a few nice things that you will really enjoy (like a piano, assuming someone in your house plays it).

Oh, but nobody wants that sort of nonsense to happen, our economy would collapse! :)

jfuller: *snicker*
posted by zoogleplex at 4:18 PM on August 14, 2007


so loquacious, are you telling me that I'm not my fucking khakis?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 4:26 PM on August 14, 2007


zoogleplex On the whole I agree with you. We're definately approaching peak energy [1], if we haven't gotten there already, and I definately agree that this is essentially an energy based economy. So much so that an energy backed currency would probably be more viable than gold backed at this point. As energy becomes less pleantiful it will naturally start crashing the entire economy.

I'll also agree that increasing efficiency is of very high importance. I disagree that it should be at the top of our list. Fifty years ago, I'd have agreed. Today I think we're already so close to an energy war that increased efficiency won't do a whole lot for the immediate crisis. To me that says that the top priority, therefore, should be to develop a new energy source. Not to say that increased efficency shouldn't have a great deal of money thrown its way, it should. But if its a choice between funding research for increased efficiency and funding research for a new power source, I'll take the latter. I'd vastly rather have both.

I'm an advocate of fission as a limp us along technology, but only as long as its kept out of for profit corporate hands. They *will* cut safety corners to increase their profit margins and that's just not acceptable when it comes to fission.

In the long run, I suspect that we'll wind up going with orbital solar (assuming there isn't some Star Trek handwave tech waiting to be discovered) simply because its the only source that we can be pretty sure won't run out for a few billion years. The real hassle is the initial cost of setup. I don't see how it could be done without either a) a really high capicity space elevator, or b) the solar panels being manufactured by a lunar colony, or c) both. The startup costs for either would probably equal a couple years worth of planetary GDP which means its out of the question for now.

But I think my main point stands. I wasn't trying to paint a pie-in-the-sky picture of fusion, but rather disagreeing with Avenger's pessimistic dismissal of techno fixes. For the most part the techno fixes have worked fairly well in the past and I see no reason to assume they won't continue to work both today and into the future.

[1] As energy is produced today.
posted by sotonohito at 4:34 PM on August 14, 2007


sotonohito: The thing is, fifty years ago, they were using the same plants to produce power in many cases that we use today. The same inefficient power meters are on the homes in my neighborhood now that were there fifty years ago. On a micro scale/point of use - cars, personal appliances, etc - we have become quite efficient, but at point of origin we're still inefficient as hell.
posted by absalom at 4:45 PM on August 14, 2007


"I wasn't trying to paint a pie-in-the-sky picture of fusion, but rather disagreeing with Avenger's pessimistic dismissal of techno fixes. For the most part the techno fixes have worked fairly well in the past and I see no reason to assume they won't continue to work both today and into the future."

I have to disagree with you, and side more with Avenger. Technology requires massive expenditure of energy to develop. The reason why techno fixes have worked well up to now is PRECISELY that we've had more and more cheap energy to throw at the R&D every year. With that premise, of course techno fixes have worked fine - at the cost of greater energy use every year for more than a century.

We can't maintain anything even close to current status quo if we want to put massive technological development into really radically new forms of energy to use as base load power for our civilization, like fusion or orbital photovoltaics beaming energy down to earth.

Not saying it can't be done, that's what I meant about getting our priorities straight. But it would require massive realignment in how we currently expend energy and R&D brainpower.

I think if you took all the best brains and energy use from all the fine companies like Boeing, Intel, Halliburton, Apple, ExxonMobil, Chevron, HP, Toyota, GM, GE, Westinghouse, Aerbus, Kawasaki Heavy, etc. etc. etc. and applied them to the energy problem, we could probably work out some solutions.

Unfortunately, that means sharply curtailing everything those fine folks are doing right now, and radically realigning the economy. Not to mention probably ceasing the flood of consumer tech toys and cars and stuff like that.

(I'm hyperbolizing a bit, maybe. It wouldn't take a complete cessation of all non-energy R&D to make major headway, but to even double such R&D would require very large changes, let alone trying to multipy it by 10 or more.)

With less energy every year, techno fixes become impossible unless energy use itself is fundamentally reorganized in our civilization. If we can do that, we'll probably be all right. If we can't... we're screwed, and your medieval scenario becomes a looming possibility.

Personally, I hope we get ridicuously lucky and stumble across some great new way to power humanity, but I don't bet on accidents.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2007


BTW, thanks to some good articles linked to by Metafilter and some good posts, I finally understand why it is I'm screwed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:33 PM on August 14, 2007


zoogle, I find your argument entirely unconvincing.

The world is non-linear, and a good example of this was the production of the two initial atom bomb types.

One -- the Little Boy type -- was a pain in the ass to produce because the uranium isotope separation process to get enough weaponizable uranium was challenging on several different levels. But it was the bureaucratically and technologically obvious solution to the problem and was thus pursued.

Then somebody -- genius of course -- had the inspiration of applying ordinary chemical explosives to the common uranium to get it into a state that would chain-react like the rare isotope.

The Fat Man was born, and it worked.

For the $500B+ we've presently chucked in the shredder prosecuting the GWoT, we could have funded quite a energy program, a program that would focus on infrastructure and institutional progress with a horizon of a decade or two to get solutions out.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:35 PM on August 14, 2007


correction, substitute "material produced from common uranium [plutonium]" vice "common uranium" above
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:44 PM on August 14, 2007


I fucking love MetaFilter, even when it is forecasting my utter ruin and devastation. loquacious, I found that diatribe reaffirming AND eponysterical.
posted by Curry at 5:56 PM on August 14, 2007


"The Fat Man was born, and it worked."

I don't think you can compare this very specific flash of insight in a very specific highly focused research program to a general energy research program, but it may be applicable. That "flash" didn't come out of nowhere, though; they already knew they could get that reaction if they found a compression method.

But I get yer point, to be sure. There are accidents and surprises and flashes of insight, and these lead to all sorts of advances. The problem is you can't really depend on those things happening. The Little Boy worked, too, although the energy expended to make it happen was astounding - something like the entire electrical output of several TVA dams over a period of many months running the largest industrial plants ever built. Had Fat Man not happened, Little Boy would still have worked and been used.

Anyway, I'm not saying it's impossible that something really novel could happen, it's just not something to base your civilization's future on. We gotta work all the angles, y'know?

"For the $500B+ we've presently chucked in the shredder prosecuting the GWoT, we could have funded quite a energy program, a program that would focus on infrastructure and institutional progress with a horizon of a decade or two to get solutions out."

On this, we agree 100%. Again, a matter of (IMO) misplaced priorities.

A good thing to do would be to stop wasting so much energy on inefficient uses. Someone (I think in another thread) mentioned how we're more efficient at the "micro" level of energy use, and mentioned cars as an example - and I had to chuckle. Seriously, our cars are outrageously inefficient, if only for the fact that most of the time, each 3000+ pound car has only ONE 150-ish POUND PERSON IN IT, thus using only 5% of the energy expended in actually doing the job the car does, transport the person. And that's on top of a mechanical efficiency of only about 20% at best. A car with one person in it is thus less than 1% efficient, wasting 99+% of the energy it uses.

Yeah, nice job that. Just look around next time you drive, look at all the one-person-occupied cars, and realize that 99%+ of that precious energy is just going *poof*.

And then tell me we can't do things more efficiently and save a shitload of energy. Go ahead and tell me that.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:59 PM on August 14, 2007


Maybe I'm an idiot, but how would you get the energy absorbed by orbiting solar panels down to the earth for actual use?
posted by synaesthetichaze at 6:02 PM on August 14, 2007


nobody wants that sort of nonsense to happen, our economy would collapse!

Pretty much. If the consumer engine were to slow down, you wouldn't have double-digit growth in the nations that are bankrolling us. So, if your little consumer slave nation isn't going to buy, what do you do with it? Might as well cash in some of those T-bills. A trillion ought to get the message across: Don't stop spending, or we'll bury you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:03 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fascinating discussion. I'm just about to start my PhD in the human factors of sustainability, which I think ties into this energy/technology dilemma.

First of all, in the long run, until human population stabilizes, it doesn't seem to me to matter what energy sources we invent or how efficient we become. It's comforting that affluent countries with empowered women tend to have less children, but on the whole, short of centralized enforcement a la China, there doesn't seem to be much check on human population besides misery (the so called dismal theorem).

Putting that larger problem aside, every time boffins add technological fixes to increase efficiency of energy use, it seems that we introduce more complexity. For example: More complexity means it's more difficult for people to understand and effectively use and maintain these systems. It ties into what Thomas Homer-Dixon calls the ingenuity gap.

To deal with this complexity, I think we're going to have to design technology to support people in behaving in environmentally friendly ways. Somehow engineers/designers have to reduce the 'pain in the ass' factor for nontechnical people.

Two examples: First, Wayne Gerdes can get double the normal mileage out of a car, because he's thinking in terms of conservation of energy, friction losses, elevation changes, and tactical driving (and lots of reckless stuff too). What would it take to get everyone to drive with half of Gerdes' skill? Secondly, imagine if you tried to put your average car driver in a solar powered vehicle. Rather than just having a gas gauge, now they have to know what the weather's going to be, what elevation change you're going to incur, what weight will be on board, what time the sun sets this time of year, etc. Would the average person have a hope in hell of using this thing in their daily driving?

This to me seems an angle on our energy challenge that hasn't been talked about yet. Lots of industrial, aviation, medical, nuclear, and other areas have seen remarkable improvements using Human Factors techniques. But they haven't really been applied to engineering challenges outside of big organizations. I don't know what the solution will be, but I've got two years to find a problem.
posted by anthill at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Excellent essay by Pete Hamill, "Crack and the Box," about what Loquacious said upthread.
posted by John of Michigan at 6:11 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


from delmoi: If I were a dictator, I would mandate that people can only spend, say, twice their annual salary on a house. So a person making $40k could only buy an $80k house.

You don't need to be a dictator. This was pretty much exactly the rule of thumb I learned growing up in the 50s & 60s-- you could afford a house costing approximatley 250% of your annual pre-tax income, and your monthly payments should not be above 25-30% of your take home pay.


from mckenny: Sorry, but the comptroller lost me the minute he started bitching about "declining moral values."

I couldn't get the page to load so I didn't see the context, but I don't really have a quarrel with this if by "moral values" he means living within your means and eshewing conspicuous consumption. Those are morals/values I can get behind.
posted by nax at 6:16 PM on August 14, 2007


Television tears you down and then throws you a rope.

You watch Flavor of Love too?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:18 PM on August 14, 2007


Had Fat Man not happened, Little Boy would still have worked and been used.

actually I tailed off from an important point of that analogy. The Little Boy process *didn't* work all that well.

IIRC we had 1 1/2 cannon-type bombs ready; the pipeline that summer was being filled by the plutonium models.

One of my favorite rumors/suspicions is that the nazi sub carrying a shedload of processed uranium (to Japan) that surrendered to us in May '45 jump-started the languishing separation process.

but how would you get the energy absorbed by orbiting solar panels down to the earth for actual use?

microwaves
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:24 PM on August 14, 2007


I'm pretty confident in ITER. They seem to be moving it away from a science problem and towards an engineering problem, and engineering problems get solved. There's a chance it won't turn into workable reactors, but I think it's more likely to fail for external reasons than technological problems, and I think there's a decent chance it will work as planned. I'm no fusion expert, just my gut feelings.

Compared to the war, ITER is supposed to cost about 12 billion dollars. That Sounds like it's unfeasible for a power plant, but if you look up what a power plant costs it's not that out there for a highly experimental prototype. If we can roughly estimate the cost of a space elevator by the Apollo project and someone comes up with some decent nanotubes, that was 135 billion in 2006 dollars. (Liftport estimates 10 billion for a space elevator, but I think they're pulling that out of their ass.) In my opinion space is only going to take off with a space elevator or ridiculously abundant electrical power making some sort of rocket fuel, and if you need to get satellites into space to make the abundant power you're limited to the elevator. So for what the war's probably going to cost we could build 4 or 5 space elevators and ten or so tokamaks.

But people can't figure out if they buy a plasma TV on their credit card they might just be fucked in a year, so forget looking ahead fifty or a hundred years or whatever to the near-endgame of abundant orbital solar power.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:24 PM on August 14, 2007


from delmoi: If I were a dictator, I would mandate that people can only spend, say, twice their annual salary on a house. So a person making $40k could only buy an $80k house.

While I completely agree real estate prices are stupid, this doesn't really work. If I have an $80k house to sell, how do I determine which of the $40k buyers should get it?
posted by bystander at 6:28 PM on August 14, 2007


Maybe I'm an idiot, but how would you get the energy absorbed by orbiting solar panels down to the earth for actual use?

I must provide the classic example.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:33 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


TheOnlyCoolTim: Just remember that for fusion to power our society, you need to get to where you can reliably and (crucially) economically build fusion power plants that run energy-positive (and I mean like 50% more energy output than input) with something like 50% minimum uptime for a minimum of 25 years - realistically more like 50 years.

And you need to build hundreds of them, very quickly. At least, if we're talking about powering this civilization with the same amount of energy we use now, and more for every year after that to sustain the growth economy.

As engineering problems go, that's probably the biggest one that humanity has ever faced, besides climate change.

Again, not to say it can't be done, but the level of commitment and cooperation necessary to even have a hope of it is very, very high.

"But people can't figure out if they buy a plasma TV on their credit card they might just be fucked in a year, so forget looking ahead fifty or a hundred years or whatever to the near-endgame of abundant orbital solar power."


No kidding, brother. No kidding.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:34 PM on August 14, 2007


That would be a way to dump billions of dollars into capital investment rather into real estate speculation. Even if a business fails, at least it created jobs and innovation, unlike a real estate property that's nothing better than a lotto ticket.

Then again, housing creates a lot of jobs as well, both in the building, the maintenance, the renovation, the buying and the selling. Fairly powerful economic engine when things are going right.

the rest of the world would blanch at our debt because they live within systems that actually pick-up the tab for things like healthcare and, to a large degree, education.

Questions of allocations aside (and I don't disagree with you on that), much of Europe has higher public debt than the US, and demographically they are less well suited to handle it. This to say nothing of the admirable financial circs of a lot of countries you couldn't pay me to live in.

(Anyone have a line on private debt country by country? Always interested in new facts, me.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:05 PM on August 14, 2007


housing creates a lot of jobs as well, both in the building, the maintenance, the renovation, the buying and the selling. Fairly powerful economic engine when things are going right

thing is, the bulk of the "capital investment" is going into the land-value component of the property.

And our stupid present property-tax system penalizes people for actually investing in fixed improvements.

Insane.

Shooting down your argument completely, IndigoJones, is the ALLOCATION construction skills. Builders were building homes almost more the for flippers taking out suicide loans, not the families who would actually consume the resource.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:11 PM on August 14, 2007


thing is, the bulk of the "capital investment" is going into the land-value component of the property

I'd bet a not-very-small chunk of that is getting lost in the pocket linings of the metric assloads of financial middlemen that stand between Average Joe and Freddie Mac.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2007


Anthill is absolutely right. Creating a sustainable society is as much about working with people as with technology. My brother's fiance is going to grad school in environmental anthropology--basically, she studies why people do or don't do environmentally healthy things and how they can be encouraged to change.

People are lazy. Until the Apocalypse is burning their heels most find it too much energy to go from an easier situation to a more difficult one. Engineers and environmentalists need to work together with that in mind when they're encouraging greener habits and technologies.
posted by schroedinger at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2007


If I were a dictator, I would mandate that people can only spend, say, twice their annual salary on a house. So a person making $40k could only buy an $80k house.

I would hope that you would also mandate that they actually build $80k homes.

And therein lies one of the problems with the whole mess...the price of affordable housing (i.e. homes that the 40k family could reasonably afford that aren't post-Katrina basket cases) skyrocketed far beyond their reach.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 PM on August 14, 2007


From way back in the thread:

"But recently I've been wondering how many of them [BMWs, Lotus, Jag, etc] have been financed directly, or in part, by the unusual state of the economy. And I wonder what's going to happen when the money isn't flowing quite as freely as it does now."

Make Money Fast: within the next several months there are going to be a lot of high-end vehicles hitting the used car market. So many that the prices are going to be exceptionally low. RESELL THEM TO CANADA.

Despite our dollar being near-parity with the US buck, our cars are still over-priced by 30% or more. You can easily turn yourself a helluva tidy profit by hooking up with a Canuck and doing the paperwork to bring a car up here. Drive it for x months to dodge the various taxes involved in doing it as a business (and to really enjoy the pleasure of a high-end car; a new one every six months!). Sell it to the next person, split the profit.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:41 PM on August 14, 2007


I would hope that you would also mandate that they actually build $80k homes.

Probably not really necessary. Usually the runaway cost is the land. If the cost of land is held in check by the dictator's market caps, then putting a cheap home on a plot won't be a problem.
The trick would be ensuring that people didn't trade construction standards for luxuries. A house with a swimming pool is only better than a house that will withstand an earthquake until the day there is an earthquake. :)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:14 PM on August 14, 2007


Maybe I'm an idiot, but how would you get the energy absorbed by orbiting solar panels down to the earth for actual use?

Phase One: SkyCorp, secretly entirely funded by the US Defence Force (which is secretly entirely funded by the US Offence Force) builds ground-based receptors for microwave energy transmissions from orbital solar collectors.

Phase Two: In times of need, much like the GPS, the US military can take over, and direct the microwave beam at non-SkyCorp-receptor targets, using them as a weapon.

Phase Three: Hacker minions of Doctor Evil crack the control codes, and the Earth is held to a ransom by a fleet of Orbital Death-rays, pending One Million Dollars.

Phase Four: While policy is normally not to deal with terrorists, the USA quickly capitulates to Dr Evil, without the Death Rays even being used, because SkyCorp's receptors are no-longer feeding the power-grid, and so people don't have TV any more.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:26 PM on August 14, 2007


TV is the reason we have the government we do. Besides convincing people to consume endlessly, it also parses information carefully to bring the desired political results. TV is our enemy, it is our worst enemy, it is that by which 'they' control us. Kill the TV and democracy may survive after all.
posted by Goofyy at 12:30 AM on August 15, 2007


zoogleplex I agree with all of your points, but disagree with your conclusion.

Yes, the techno fixes of the past were wholy dependent on cheap energy. And continue to be, one thing that doesn't get discussed as frequently as it should when people talk about peak oil is the fact that not only do we ship our crops by burning oil, but we irrigate them by burning oil and that almost all of the fertilizer (and quite a bit of the herbicide and pesticide) we use is made from oil [1]. Useful stuff oil. So when oil prices start spiking not only will it cost more to ship our food, it'll cost more to grow it in the first place.

Personally I suspect we'll have a really nasty resource war, and I don't look forward to that at all.

But, the simple fact is that we are completely dependent on having energy, and people find ways to supply what they depend on. France and Japan, to take my two favorite examples, produce pretty much all of their electricity from a combination of atomic and wind/solar/tidal/etc. As oil, and especially coal, prices increase I think you'll see a lot more fission plants built, the NIMBY types will be faced with a choice of no juice or a nuke plant and they'll take the nuke plants. Which doesn't solve the car problem.

I think you're absolutely wrong that doubling energy research would be extremely difficult. It'd probably cost a bit more than double our current budget, true, but I doubt it'd cost even three times the current budget to double the research. You throw money at scientific problems and they get solved. Look at any number of crash research progams during WWII (synthetic rubber, the Manhattan project, etc). Yes, that'd take researchers away from building the next new toy, I'm sure that a few semi-competent engineers and a decent marketing team can add enough minor bells and whistles to keep the companies afloat.

I also think you've taken too much of a US centric view of the energy problem as it applies to research. Japan's economy is almost as large as that of the US, it isn't burning an insane portion of its GDP on pointless wars, and it has no reserves of any sort of fossil fuel. They've got the money to spend and very compelling reasons to spend it. France doesn't have as much money, but they've also got very good reasons to spend it. Iceland has a tiny economy, but a very pressing need to stop burning oil and is spending a shitload of money on the problem. One other thing missing in Japan and Iceland, especially Iceland, is a group of wealthy types making a fortune off oil (or coal) and actively opposing any real energy research.

I'm a pessimistic optimist, if that isn't too much of a contradiction in terms. What I mean is that I'm optimistic that the problem will be solved and we won't wind up living a medieval life, but I'm pretty sure that there's going to be famines and wars before we get there. As you've observed, most people simply won't plan ahead, won't confront a problem until its staring them in the face, etc. I think it'll take a real oil war, not the low casualty type affair the US is currently involved in, before the US people and government start changing things. I hope I'm wrong.

[1] Except for that which is made from coal.
posted by sotonohito at 4:11 AM on August 15, 2007


Shooting down your argument completely, IndigoJones, is the ALLOCATION construction skills. Builders were building homes almost more the for flippers taking out suicide loans, not the families who would actually consume the resource.

Forgive me, I was commenting on two separate issues. The allocation argument was addressing the matter of public spending and debt (for medicine and larnin' in some countries, for, presumably, military in others) and had nothing to do with the real estate issue.

As to real estate- granted, most of the recent cost runup has been mania, but I was responding to the suggestion that no economic good at all comes from that sector (lotto tickets were suggested), which is simply wrong.

But you're a Georgist, yes? I'm hopelessly ignorant on the subject, but one thing I have never been able to understand with that philosophy is the actual distribution of the finite assets. Who determines who gets Park Avenue and who gets Love Canal?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:41 AM on August 15, 2007


Unlike the other recent real estate bubble threads, this is the only one to tie in overconsumption, culture jamming, peak oil famines and resource wars. Well done.

Ready.... steady... apocalypse!
posted by psmealey at 6:52 AM on August 15, 2007


None of which is to say that any of your promises are particularly far-fetched or wrong. It's just, at times, very difficult to see the value in indulging in such unrelentingly negative thoughts.
posted by psmealey at 7:10 AM on August 15, 2007


Hey, I say think as negative as you can without hurting your motivation. Really, that's the secret to happiness.
posted by anthill at 8:46 AM on August 15, 2007


Who determines who gets Park Avenue and who gets Love Canal?

The market. Georgism at its essence is essentially a split tax . . . tax improvements at 0% and site values sufficiently to capture the economic rents. That's all.

The complications come with eg. not forcing Grandma out of her SFH of 40 years when area incomes outstrip hers, and some critics have a problem with the process of determing site values (they don't want government involved).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:11 AM on August 15, 2007


Let's remember that banks / lenders don't necessarily stand the RISKs connected to owning a lot of overvalued houses/goods ; the risk would be that of financing with 100 something that now could be easily sold , at best, at 50. Clearly no lender would like the asset to depreciate so much and so quickly, unless of course the real lender isn't the financial intermediary/bank, but some money saving account / pension fund who was "managed" by extremely competent technical analysts into buying mortgages or mortgages indexed obligations.

Indeed it would be nice to be able to obtain a little positive cash flow out of high absolute numbers ( high nominal value even with little value still yelds nice returns) without risking much or anything at all. If my memory serves , the inet bubble wasn't paid by banks/financiers.
posted by elpapacito at 12:13 PM on August 15, 2007


The "crisis" we're seeing now is that the system is plugged up with $2-3T of potentially bad loans, so finance guys don't want to buy the banks' mortgage-backed paper until they know they're not getting a pig in a poke.

120% / 80-20, IO / "pay-option", stated-income, non-owner occupied, cash-out refi, qualifying borrowers into loans on the teaser rate not the back-end rate, million dollar+ jumbos . . . these practices were the BULK of the loans 2004-2006 . . . they were what drove prices up & up during that time.

And they're going away now, along with the speculative churn, and generational low interest rates.

I thought it would be bad later this decade, but I didn't expect these forces to consolidate themselves so clearly so soon.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:56 PM on August 15, 2007


"So when oil prices start spiking not only will it cost more to ship our food, it'll cost more to grow it in the first place."

Oh, absolutely. That's probably going to be one of the biggest problems for Western nations, since a lot of them (most especially the US) have displaced the bulk of food production so far away from population centers that the percentage of the price spike from transport costs will be disproportionate. I submit that the problem of providing food to people at an affordable price, through either some kind of change in transport or through relocating agricultural production, is going to require a great deal of the engineering know-how that we'll need for energy reform, in precisely the same time frame - energy and food problem all wrapped up in one. What do we do first? Provide more energy or more food?

"Personally I suspect we'll have a really nasty resource war, and I don't look forward to that at all."

It's already in its first phases, I'm sure you've noticed that.

"As oil, and especially coal, prices increase I think you'll see a lot more fission plants built, the NIMBY types will be faced with a choice of no juice or a nuke plant and they'll take the nuke plants."

Agree completely, and because we have so few options as to how to mitigate the problem, I'm entirely supportive of building more fission power plants. Kind of a hard pill to swallow, but it's one thing we can do that will, in fact, help a great deal.

"Which doesn't solve the car problem."


The car problem is hopefully going to solve itself; people are simply going to be priced out of the driving habit. It's already happening in some places. I see it here in Los Angeles with several of the Metro Rapid bus lines being packed solid, standing room only, with twice as many and much larger buses running the routes.

Unfortunately, the problem really needs to get solved faster than a price-out solution, but we'll have to take what we can get. I've already calculated at what point I'll have to switch to mass transit - since I ride a motorcycle, it's a lot farther off than it is for most folks.

"I think you're absolutely wrong that doubling energy research would be extremely difficult. It'd probably cost a bit more than double our current budget, true, but I doubt it'd cost even three times the current budget to double the research."

In terms of functional difficulty, I agree with you completely. In terms of political and psychological difficulty... well, you can see how stubborn people are. There has to be the political will on the part of people and government to move significant resources to attack the problem - and moving such resources will require sacrifice and change somewhere in the system, something which people and government are loath to deal with, at best.

I mean, the US could almost completely remove its need for foreign oil very quickly - if everyone stopped driving their cars and freight went back to rail instead of trucks. If we even did something like require all cars on the road during rush hour to contain at least 4 people, we could cut fuel use by substantial percentages. Functionally, this would present some logistical problems, but it's not a giant change physically. It could be done in a matter of months.

Psychologically, on the other hand, it's a complete realignment of the way Americans look at their own lives. People would go berserk. Look how much trouble Mayor Bloomberg is having trying to get congestion pricing (a la London) instituted for Manhattan. Forcing everyone to start carpooling would cause riots from coast to coast.

"I also think you've taken too much of a US centric view of the energy problem as it applies to research. Japan's economy is almost as large as that of the US, it isn't burning an insane portion of its GDP on pointless wars, and it has no reserves of any sort of fossil fuel. They've got the money to spend and very compelling reasons to spend it."

You're quite correct, I've failed to consider how some other places have a different view of the problem and incentive to deal with it. I'm an American, after all, so I'm looking at all this from the point of view of how I personally am going to deal with it. :) Well, okay. I just hope that folks in other nations who come up with good solutions will be willing to share them...

"I think it'll take a real oil war, not the low casualty type affair the US is currently involved in, before the US people and government start changing things. I hope I'm wrong."

I'm afraid you're right. It's going to need to be right in a lot of people's faces, and right now it's almost the farthest thing from the majority of Americans's minds.

"Unlike the other recent real estate bubble threads, this is the only one to tie in overconsumption, culture jamming, peak oil famines and resource wars. Well done."

psmealey, it's all the same damn problem. I don't think that can be stated emphatically enough. The US as a heavily indebted country, the real estate mess, the stock market, finances, energy, the oil war, and the whole TV consumer mind-control programming, it's all the same. damn. problem. Perhaps more correctly, it's a set of interrelated and cross-connected feedback loops, all of which are at their root dependent on cheap energy.

Watch carefully what happens in Mexico over the next 3 or 4 years.

"I thought it would be bad later this decade, but I didn't expect these forces to consolidate themselves so clearly so soon."

Heywood, the onset of the problem has been visible for more than a year - the trigger for the real estate mess was the acceleration of adjustable rate mortgage resets, which was a pretty easily discernable set of calendar dates, starting in early 2006 at a low level and climbing to a first crescendo about November 2007.

Since that's all about debt... of course it connects to everything else. It sucks, but here it is, and we get to deal with it.
posted by zoogleplex at 3:25 PM on August 15, 2007


If we even did something like require all cars on the road during rush hour to contain at least 4 people, we could cut fuel use by substantial percentages. Functionally, this would present some logistical problems, but it's not a giant change physically. It could be done in a matter of months. Psychologically, on the other hand, it's a complete realignment of the way Americans look at their own lives. People would go berserk.

Totally. The simple 'industrial' angle to this type of problem is that you're taking something that's simple to deal with (oh, I forgot milk, I can just drive to the corner store) and replacing it with something complicated, like getting four people to align their schedules and be in the right place at the right time. Pain in the ass, and more complicated. For all the other ideas that would save our asses, there's often corresponding complexity that sinks the whole idea.

Cognitive dissonance suggests that if you can get people to do something, their attitudes about it will shift to become more positive. So rather than exhorting people to change their attitudes, some of the ingenuity we've got lying around needs to focus on making good behaviors less effortful, either physically or mentally.
posted by anthill at 5:29 PM on August 15, 2007


Anybody who currently believes that kicking the oil habit must necessarily involve massive social disruption and dreadful economic pain and/or rapid adoption of nuclear power generation ought to go read this and then spend time persuading other people to do likewise. Sitting around wringing our hands and moaning how awful everything is going to get will do none of us any good.

Nuclear power is too expensive. We need cheap, effective, quick solutions; fortunately, most of them already exist.

Perhaps we could start by ceasing to breed like friggin' rabbits, too.
posted by flabdablet at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2007


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