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Ernest Callenbach: Last Words to an America in Decline

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Posted on May 7, 2012
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(Page 4)

The looter elite systematically exports jobs, skills, knowledge, technology, retaining at home chiefly financial manipulation expertise: highly profitable, but not of actual productive value. Through “productivity gains” and speedups, it extracts maximum profit from domestic employees; then, firing the surplus, it claims surprise that the great mass of people lack purchasing power to buy up what the economy can still produce (or import).

Here again Marx had a telling phrase: “Crisis of under-consumption.” When you maximize unemployment and depress wages, people have to cut back. When they cut back, businesses they formerly supported have to shrink or fail, adding their own employees to the ranks of the jobless, and depressing wages still further. End result: something like Mexico, where a small, filthy rich plutocracy rules over an impoverished mass of desperate, uneducated, and hopeless people.

Barring unprecedented revolutionary pressures, this is the actual future we face in the United States, too. As we know from history, such societies can stand a long time, supported by police and military control, manipulation of media, surveillance and dirty tricks of all kinds. It seems likely that a few parts of the world (Germany, with its worker-council variant of capitalism, New Zealand with its relative equality, Japan with its social solidarity, and some others) will remain fairly democratic.

The U.S., which has a long history of violent plutocratic rule unknown to the textbook-fed, will stand out as the best-armed Third World country, its population ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, ill-cared for in health, and increasingly poverty-stricken: even Social Security may be whittled down, impoverishing tens of millions of the elderly.

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As empires decline, their leaders become increasingly incompetent—petulant, ignorant, gifted only with PR skills of posturing and spinning, and prone to the appointment of loyal idiots to important government positions. Comedy thrives; indeed writers are hardly needed to invent outrageous events.

We live, then, in a dark time here on our tiny precious planet. Ecological devastation, political and economic collapse, irreconcilable ideological and religious conflict, poverty, famine: the end of the overshoot of cheap-oil-based consumer capitalist expansionism.

If you don’t know where you’ve been, you have small chance of understanding where you might be headed. So let me offer a capsule history for those who, like most of us, got little help from textbook history.

At 82, my life has included a surprisingly substantial slice of American history. In the century or so up until my boyhood in Appalachian central Pennsylvania, the vast majority of Americans subsisted as farmers on the land. Most, like people elsewhere in the world, were poor, barely literate, ill-informed, short-lived.  Millions had been slaves. Meanwhile in the cities, vast immigrant armies were mobilized by ruthless and often violent “robber baron” capitalists to build vast industries that made things: steel, railroads, ships, cars, skyscrapers.

Then, when I was in grade school, came World War II. America built the greatest armaments industry the world had ever seen, and when the war ended with most other industrial countries in ruins, we had a run of unprecedented productivity and prosperity. Thanks to strong unions and a sympathetic government, this prosperity was widely shared: a huge working middle class evolved—tens of millions of people could afford (on one wage) a modest house, a car, perhaps sending a child to college. This era peaked around 1973, when wages stagnated, the Vietnam War took a terrible toll in blood and money, and the country began sliding rightward.

In the next epoch, which we are still in and which may be our last as a great nation, capitalists who grew rich and powerful by making things gave way to a new breed: financiers who grasped that you could make even more money by manipulating money. (And by persuading Congress to subsidize them—the system should have been called Subsidism, not Capitalism.) They had no concern for the productivity of the nation or the welfare of its people; with religious fervor, they believed in maximizing profit as the absolute economic goal. They recognized that, by capturing the government through the election finance system and removing government regulation, they could turn the financial system into a giant casino.

Little by little, they hollowed the country out, until it was helplessly dependent on other nations for almost all its necessities. We had to import significant steel components from China or Japan. We came to pay for our oil imports by exporting food (i.e., our soil). Our media and our educational system withered. Our wars became chronic and endless and stupefyingly expensive. Our diets became suicidal, and our medical system faltered; life expectancies began to fall.


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By Marian Griffith, May 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And another opportunity of discussing the immediate and moderate future of the USA and the entire world in fact, has been lost to pointless bickering.

Mr.Callenbach’s final words were not about who is most at fault for the current state and he clearly lost some of the youthful optimism he had when he wrote Ecotopia.
What he wrote is about how unless we manage to change things the USA and the economic system it has forced upon the world is bound to self-destruct, and if we are very luckly it will do so by imploding quietly and not by setting the entire world on fire. The phrase ‘the usa is becoming the world’s best armed third world country’ does not inspire confidence.
Mr.Callenbach also identified a number of traits and characteristics that are going to be essential to see ourselves through this decline and will help us build something new from the ruins. The key ones being that we can only survive if we work together and share fairly. The opposite of what the money driven hyper-capitalism is forcing upon us all.

As the financial parasites in their mad dash to produce goods ever cheaply (and keep an ever larger amount of the wealth for themselve) hollow out the ability of the people to purchase things we are getting ever closer to the point where the whole thing just collapses. What is the point of having slaves build cars cheaply when the world is divided in slaves and factory owners. The first can not buy cars and the second can not keep a factory profitable.
And the breaking point is much nearer than we like to think. As oil prices go up so does the unsustainability of the global economy. If the oil price doubles (which could happen very rapidly indeed) China no longer can ship their goods at prices that the impoverished American and European population can afford. Demand collapses, China slides into a recession and the USA in particular has insufficient industry to produce its essentials (nor might I add can afford to ship the food to its hungry cities from halfway the continent. And that is if the global warming does not destroy the viability of agriculture in the midwest).

This seems to me to be a slightly more important issue than who has the biggest epeen.

And I think we might start with being more kind to each other (because if not us then who will?)

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By americanme, May 10, 2012 at 10:58 am Link to this comment

No, you should shut up and get a GED.

This article was about the impending doom of the planet—are you such a desperate wannabe gringo that everything on this planet has to do with silly gringo volunteer program ideas?

You are an insulting little twit, in my opinion, and nothing you have said causes me to have doubts about my opinion.

You recommend mowing lawns for oldsters like myself, and reading the newspaper to them—those are solutions to the current planetary crisis?  Besides, you are a hypocrite, as you have insulted this oldster.

And who told you that all oldsters were either illiterate or blind?  I didn’t pull my PhD out of a box of Crackerjacks.

I can’t think of too many activities that would be more fatuously irritating to me than to have some undereducated kid try to read the news out loud to me in the seven languages which I read!

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By americanme, May 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

Look kid, I posted what I posted because I live in Mexico and my post very accurately responds to your pie in the sky foolishness.

I am an american—A Native American who lives in Mexico, in the American hemisphere.

And I am not some undereducated nitwit who doesn’t even know what paranoia is.  I am not paranoid.  If I were I would certainly not come to this site and receive virtual death threats because I am not white—and infantile screeds like the one you just posted to me.

This OLD WOMAN whom you just insulted sees you for the hypocrite you are.  You didn’t bother to take the time to treat me with courtesy, even!

With insulting twits like you posting your cursi crap here it’s no damn wonder I am not optimistic!

And I do not fish!  Like many non-coastal Native Americans, I am allergic to fish and shellfish.

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By americanme, May 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment

And those three activities are going to change the world?

You wouldn’t last long with those capers in Mexico.

1.  No lawns except the very rich folks.

2.  The city hall jokers pocket at least 25% of the money for materials to repair potholes so that they can start building their mansions and so that the holes will open again in 3 months.  They would run your ass out on the end of an AKJ-47, and you’d be lucky not to do jail time.

3.  Newspapers are a luxury—you’d have to buy the paper, too.

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By exoevolution, May 8, 2012 at 6:35 am Link to this comment

a luminous
world awaits
a dawn
when darkness
is illuminated.
when ignorance
is educated.
when hate
becomes love.
when all is One, something to be dreamed of
everyone, everywhere is One.

a glowing
reality breathes
a thought,
consciousness heartbeats.
soaring upward
consciousness informs.
diving inward
consciousness transforms. 
becoming love… without end… be love… be love…
consciousness when all is One, something to be dreamed of
everyone, everywhere is One.


across the universe,
suns are born,
stars explode,
light-gods that give everything,
  lighting the darkness, awaking the void.

consciousness kisses the lips of creation.

 

the sun is so beautiful.

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By prisnersdilema, May 7, 2012 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment

I don’t disagree with what he said, good advice, and lately I have noticed that
some of my neighbors are raising chickens…Along with many proud gardens.

The day may come when someones book on raising chicken’s reaches number one
on the NY times best seller list, it will be more shocking to some, than the fading
away of America’s heartland, and industrial base.

Still the loss of Japan as an industrial nation, will be difficult for the economy of
the world to absorb. The question of where will the Japanese live, may take
generations to resolve. Their end, if the world survives the resultant release of
cesium, that is already killing many Japanese through heart attacks, will serve as
an eternal testament, to the madness, stupidity, and lies of our leadership.

Just as hope is better than despair, in facing life’s issues, reality is much better
than pretty lies.

In a 100 years of dark times, mankind’s survival will be uncertain, cooperation,
and acceptance, will help tip the odds in our favor, and certainly those that survive
by the dint of that cooperation and acceptance, will be most worthy.

Of the things on his list, there are a few I know how to do. I will have a lot more to
learn as time goes on, I hope I am up to the challenge.

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By Randall Smith, May 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Google Burningman, read the FAQ for new Burners, and learn about radical self-reliance.

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By Randall Smith, May 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We are way past the point of no return; the Bush-43 election.  The collapse from the Lehman Brothers meltdown would have FORCED immediate change.  But alas, the change is just postponed.  Now we get a president that postpones the hard decisions.  The crazies are not in control of the House of Reps.  The collapse will be MUCH bigger when it come.  Just learn new skills, like most people with sales skills that are no longer needed.  Maybe in 100 years things will be better.  The rest of this century will be trying to create a new form of goverment and economy, one without oil.

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By americanme, May 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

Surfboy:

And WHAT, may I ask, is that way to soften the ire and dilute the fear?

I don’t see it being put into practice anywhere.

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By americanme, May 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

I can see why this would speak to white people in the US.

Doesn’t say diddly squat to those of us who are not white, and who are nevertheless victims of the white settler colonial state.

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By gerard, May 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment

Surfboy:  “..soften the ire and dilute the fear.”  Absolutely.  Every specific contribution is needed now, and valuable.

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