Casaubon's Book

A number of people, including Ilargi and Stoneleigh at _The Automatic Earth_ have long pointed out that the interventions that the government has made in the housing market hasn’t served the people. They observe, for example, that by propping up house prices artificially they’ve benefitted more affluent, generally older homeowners, at the expense of younger, poorer people, renters and those who would like to get into the housing market but can’t afford its (still) inflated prices. The problem with this, besides the generational and class screwage is that these strategies don’t serve even homeowners in the longer run.

Now we see another example of the ways in which interventions in the housing market aren’t helping, courtesy of one of my favorite Science blogs colleagues, Mike the Mad Biologist:
My guiding political principle is “people have to like this crap.” That is, if a policy makes peoples’ lives worse, then it’s a shitty policy*. More about that in a bit.

Last week, a bunch of bloggers went to visit the Treasury Department, and one of the topics for discussion was the Home Affordable Modification Program (‘HAMP’). HAMP has been accused of doing little to help people from avoiding foreclosure, and, instead, has only prolonged their attempt to meet a (doomed to fail) series of payments (this is derisively called “extend and pretend”). In other words, these homeowners would have saved money if they had only entered foreclosure earlier, and avoided HAMP (as Atrios put it, “Hi, we’re from the federal government and we’re here to fuck you over”).

You want to read the whole thing, just another layer of proof that most of what is being done to “fix” the economy is actually being done to “fix” the game so that the remaining affluent folks profit.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Glenn
    August 23, 2010

    It’s tiny, it’s unfinished. But we don’t share it with a bank. I’d rather sleep in a surplus store wool blanket under a cedar tree on my land than get a mortgage or loan from a bank for anything. They are purely evil parasites.

    Glenn,
    Marrowstone Island

  2. #2 darwinsdog
    August 23, 2010

    ..most of what is being done to “fix” the economy is actually being done to “fix” the game so that the remaining affluent folks profit.

    When has the situation ever differed?

  3. #3 Stephen B.
    August 23, 2010

    Wow, this really shouldn’t be news to folks.

    darwinsdog has it. Everything we’ve seen enacted in regard to laws, regulations, and Federal Reserve actions is designed to keep the Powers That Be, in power, as long as is further possible. If it looks like it’s being done to help ordinary people, that’s only because that’s the guise used to stall and satiate common people in order to buy the latter’s support.

    (Boy, have I grown cynical over the past few years.)

  4. #4 darwinsdog
    August 23, 2010

    Your view doesn’t strike me as being cynical Stephen. It’s simply a statement of fact.

  5. #5 AnyEdge
    August 23, 2010

    Keeping prices artificially high, or artificially low, will destroy the market.

    Providing people with loans who had no business getting them is a way of artifically (seemingly) keeping the price down. We see where that got us.

    The fact is, population rises and available land area doesn’t. ALL real estate will end up in the hands of the rich.

  6. #6 Passerby
    August 23, 2010

    Not only has keeping home prices artificially high screwed present middle and lower-class wage earners, who are now living paycheck to paycheck as other costs- food, energy, rents, goods, insurance and medical – haven’t declined substantially from their rise over the past 5 years, they are screwed when resorting to the alternative – renting.

    Mismanaged immigration rules have allowed the US population to swell by more than a third in the past 30 years. One sees the effect in the parallel rise of real costs in food, swelling demand and costs for public schools and medical programs for the poor, decline in real wages and benefits, reduction in employment opportunity for experienced and educated workers.

    First and second generation immigrants are having children in record numbers, causing the US internal growth rate to rise for the first time in nearly 50 years, to a level that now tops all developed nations – thus the astonishing rise in school room occupancy and a return to 60s-era temporary classroom modules as low-cost building expansion.

    During and after the housing boom, home values floated far above actual asset worth, even when taking into account regional fall in pricing in 2009-10.

    That demand resulted from greedy local real-estate and developers who took advantage of ‘financial instruments’ offered by lenders that leveraged insured risk (offered by Uncle Sugar) against increased future worth. Investors were buying highly risky assets for false gain, by trading risky assets as high-yield investment, betting that the bubble market would continue as long as population and credit wealth rose.

    Many developers in the West used 1950s-era legislation still on the books, meant to encourage development in rural areas. They targeted rural suburban development for relatively wealthy early retirees – formerly an economically disadvantaged class who have been highly successful in Washington in lobbying to protect and advance their wealth and public retirement benefits.

    The wealthy classes in collusion with their age-peers in Washington (average age ~60), have also managed to nix state and Federal tax increases for maintenance and expansion of infrastructure necessary for (a) increased population and (b) residential development. That forced local government into risky loans or bond sales to support services expansion.

    Meanwhile, immigrant waves of mostly disadvantaged Hispanic Mexicans with minimal education and skills were allowed to enter and settle in the US. Their numbers drove rents up across the US and provided lucrative opportunity for developers and real-estate investors in rental housing market.

    They have continued to benefit, as defaulting homeowners have resorted to rental housing. Moreover, corruption, aggressive lobbying and collusion have kept rents up while landlords have resisted enactment of laws to address safety and security and public health issues in rental units.

    However, you have just started to address the core issue: the actual unemployment rate of working population in the US. The WSJ reported early last week that real estimated number of employed was just 61.9% in total, and 69.1 for males.

    That’s as high or higher than the worst figure I could find (29%) at the start of the Great Depression and before large public works programs afforded wage earning opportunities.

  7. #7 Mu
    August 23, 2010

    Compare that to the (in)famous bail-out Greece got last year from the European Union. They didn’t really bail out Greece, they bailed out their own banks by converting loans guaranteed by Greece into loans guaranteed by the various EU countries, so that when Greece goes down in flames it doesn’t take the EU banking system with it.

  8. #8 Sharon Astyk
    August 23, 2010

    Passerby, yes, I see the light – it was the immigrants all along. Even when it was the bears it was the immigrants.

    Sharon

  9. #9 Jadehawk
    August 23, 2010

    it’s also there to “help the economy”. Once upon a time, that phrase meant “helping people stay afloat”, but “economy” seems to have been reified and exists now independently of the worker-ants that create it.

    Hence the occasionally absurd call on people not to save money (or conversely, absurd articles about how important it is to get the Chinese to spend to better their economy, instead of saving 20% of their income on average), and other plans that get more money circulating but still make the vast majority of people worse off than they were before.

  10. #10 Andy Brown
    August 23, 2010

    One topic that I haven’t seem much covered in the doomer blogosphere (and probably I’m wrong about that – maybe someone can point me toward something) is what i would call the “technologies of disvestiture.” That is, how the powers that be manage to separate people from their investments and their property. For instance, if the cash economy ended today, something like 70% of “privately owned” homes would then belong to the banks (because they have a cash-specific mortgage on them). Without going into details, that means the vast majority of people can quickly and legally be divested of something that has obviously tremendous real value. Another means is taxation, which is a favorite world-wide for divesting people who are outside the main (usually cash) economy. Another is through the criminal justice system. And so on. The technologies vary from place to place, and the mortgage (or debt peonage) system here is an important way in which people are kept ensorceled into this system. I fully expect a movement shortly to make it illegal for people to walk away from “underwater” property.

  11. #11 Stephen B.
    August 23, 2010

    And, since the game is obviously so “fixed”, the best way is to bow OUT of the game as much as possible and that’s done by getting out of the formal economy as much as possible.

    The government controls us in many ways via laws, information, and monetary policy. We can’t escape all of it, but the less we participate in the money game, the less control they have over that part of our lives, how we earn our living, etc.

    Everything we’ve discussed in blogs over the last several years such as here at Sharon’s blog that better enable us to live with less, live off of trading locally with others, etc. further insulates us from the government and its efforts to “fix” things (and “fix” us.)

  12. #12 Jane
    August 23, 2010

    Sharon, IMO, there’s a difference between “blaming the immigrants” and seeing the negative effects that the *numbers* of immigrants the US has had in the past 35-45 years. The immigrants as individuals are trying to better their lives. In their millions, though, they’ve driven down wages and increased public expenses. Wages paid under the table for lawn services, restaurant workers, housekeeping, and child care are making life cheaper and easier for their employers, but what is the real cost of hosting such a large number? (Also, I don’t buy the idea that they’re taking jobs that Americans won’t do. If hotel maids and restaurant busboys and dishwashers, and gardeners, etc., were paid legally, the wages would be higher, and American youth who are now unemployed could begin to build a work history.)

    IMO, if we allowed a reasonable number of legal workers, we could provide English language and literacy training for them. As it is now, they have to lie and hide. The instability must be stressful on their children, too. It’s a sad mess.

  13. #13 darwinsdog
    August 23, 2010

    ..if the cash economy ended today, something like 70% of “privately owned” homes would then belong to the banks..

    I would contend that “if the cash economy ended today” 100% of property would “belong” to whoever could defend tenancy of said property with firepower. Banks would be looted then burnt to the ground.

  14. #14 Susan in NJ
    August 23, 2010

    Oh come on Sharon, don’t blame the bears, when you know the real problem is the trees, you know those dangerous tree that W. used to tell us about.

    Sorry for the snark, but you fell into one of our running jokes.

    There’s an editorial today by Samuelson on the Washington Post site that ties in nicely with your theme (housing, not bears, trees and immigrants) — I half expected this post to be a rif on that.

  15. #15 Andy Brown
    August 23, 2010

    Hi Darwinsdog,

    Uh, you may be right on that. Here’s a more plausible (or at least less drastic) scenario: As the “Salary-era” (of household economy) breaks down, huge numbers of people lose the ability to pay down their mortgages and are foreclosed upon. The system limps along for long enough that the assets of the banks are sold off at firesale rates, eventually being bought up by local players who still have cash and influence with whatever local institutions of government still function. They ignore all the crap houses inhabited by impoverished armed squatters, but press their ownership on farms like Sharon’s which have real value in the post-Salary era. It’s rare for things to break down entirely. More commonly it breaks down along fault lines that exist within the culture and the legal system. The technologies of divestiture are just one potential fault line, that I’d be worried about if I had anything of real value to the coming economy.

  16. #16 darwinsdog
    August 23, 2010

    I don’t usually traffic in very specific predictions about the future, Andy, and the scenario you depict in post #15 is plausible. It’s possible that banks’ assets could be sold off to what amounts to gangs of armed thugs with some modicum of social sanction but gangs of armed thugs don’t really need any social sanction in an environment where the cash economy has broken down and the banks are insolvent. In a gunfight with armed thugs it’s rather irrelevant whether they have any sanction from whatever instruments of government may still be functioning.

    While it’s possible for things to break down gradually, along cultural fault lines as you describe, what I foresee happening is that things sort of idle along more or less routinely until some unforeseen, and perhaps relatively minor in its own right, event causes things to break down rapidly, chaotically and catastrophically. The precipitating event may be financial or socio-political but I expect it to be environmental. A heat wave that overloads the electrical grid causing rolling brownouts, perhaps. Or a storm-front hundreds of miles long that sweeps across the Midwest spawning intense thunderstorms & tornados, knocking down trees & powerlines. Something of this sort. One thing leads to another in positive feedback mode until people are blindsided by the consequences. Systems tend to be rather resilient and to absorb insults without majorly seeming to register them, until the nonadditive aggregation of said insults overwhelms the system’s inherent resiliency causing it to collapse abruptly. The biosphere has absorbed a plethora of anthropogenic insults to the point that how close it is to collapse is anyone’s guess.

  17. #17 Brad K.
    August 23, 2010

    Jane,

    There are a number of grand and scary claims being made today that are self-serving, but are meant to sound .. patriotic?

    One one the radio hear is that “68 cents of money spent a local merchants stays in the community; 32 cents of each dollar spent at a national chain store stays in the community. Think of serving your community when you choose where to spend.” I cannot imagine the math works out on this. It sounds too much like the old, trite union diatribe against non-union Wal-Mart.

    Whether the local hardware store is a national franchise, owned by an out of state chain, or a truly independent owner, most of the money coming in goes for stock for the store, and for salaries. And taxes. Only the profits are discretionary, and few stores make 68 cents of each dollar coming in as after-expenses profit. The government takes a big chunk – Tax Day, if you considered that your wages first paid the government so the rest goes to you, is in August this year (I remember when it was in May); companies and corporations are taxed at a much higher rate.

    So I don’t buy the “68 cents of every dollar”. Especially if any of the merchants are local – not only does state and federal taxes leave the community, so do union dues.

    I feel that immigration is a government concern, not a civilian, citizen concern. For several decades, the government has failed to enforce the borders; whether they do or not is not my concern. When people have been working and living in my community, working for US citizens, obeying local and state laws, living in houses and apartments in my community, paying their rent – that isn’t my problem. I would actually prefer to see that situation solidified; it is only fair to my neighbors, and responsible. It is casual brutality to continue to threaten, year after year, people that are part of my community; prolonging the discussion and putting off “amnesty” is horribly damaging to otherwise respectful, responsible, and honorable citizens.

    I have another reason to lean toward amnesty. Not only have my fellow citizens voted with jobs and housing, but those from Mexico, most of them, are willing to worship and work under our laws. And they are more prolific. Latin Americans in America average more children per adult couple than majority-race Americans. And that is an issue. American has many times suffered through the agony of embracing huge numbers of immigrants from different backgrounds, with culture clashes and civil unrest. That is – this is turmoil our grandparents and other ancestors faced and weathered. It works out, eventually, even though various moneyed interests seem able to rouse violence to oppose change.

    Why do I look at fertility, number of children per couple? Why do I welcome a disturbing number of people raised outside American culture? Because many of the illegal immigrants believe and lived under laws someone similar to ours. Muslims, on the other hand, don’t feel the same way.

    No culture can persist over a 25 year span, without a 2.1 children per adult couple fertility average. Grow or die, and the number just make sense. America, aside from the undocumented aliens, averages about 1.7 children per couple. That is, American people, as a people, are declining in number, aside from certain minorities.

    Muslims, here in American, in Canada, and worldwide, are averaging 8.1 children per adult couple. Their beliefs are a direct contradiction of religious tolerance as cited in the US Constitution; religions that embrace violent overthrow of the government, or illegal acts (cannibalism, ritual maiming, torture, rape, etc.) are not considered “legitimate” religions. Muslims adhere to a set of repressive laws they call “Sharia” laws, and don’t recognize that their beliefs and practices are intended to comply with federal, state, and local laws and protections.

    Some Muslim communities have agreed to live in tolerance in the US (which conflicts with their teaching to kill all non-believers). At least one Mosque in New York, not all that far from where the World Trade Center once stood, preaches a message of peace and coexistence. Yet the Mosque that President Obama spoke on, the one the Muslims intend to build at Ground Zero as a shrine of the victory of their compatriots that brought down the Twin Towers – that is a shrine of intolerance, of victory over non-believers – and an aggressive act of defiance of America and dedication to the destruction of all that is non-Islamic.

    So at this point I welcome the chance to include additional people in the non-Muslim rolls of America. As soon as they learn English, and we can get them signed up to pay taxes. Once they can speak English, and more fully understand and live within the larger culture of the US, we have a lot to learn from these many people that have been held aloof.

  18. #18 Claire
    August 23, 2010

    Re darwinsdog’s suggestion of a line of intense tornadoes in the Midwest being a breaking point: it’s possible but seems less likely to a Midwesterner like me than some other potential disasters I can imagine. True, if we had a burst of tornadoes like the April 1974 burst (Xenia, OH and many other towns and cities), and especially if the swarm hit some major metro areas like my own (St. Louis), it could be the deal-breaker. But such swarms are, it seems to me, less likely than, say, several major hurricanes hitting populous coastal areas – think 2004 (Florida), and 2005 (Katrina, Rita). Imagine a ‘cane like Katrina hitting NYC, with its lack of building codes for such an event.

    You forgot to mention earthquakes. A New Madrid-style series of quakes would level much of the Midwest, including my area – in fact, would cause a lot more and more widespread damage than a tornado swarm. Or think of big quakes hitting populous cities on the West Coast – or even the East Coast (there are faults near NYC). Quakes hitting the Midwest or East, or the Pacific NW, might be worse even if smaller, due to building codes.

    Anyway, I think you have a good point: there is very little resiliency to adjust to disasters like these. And count me in as among those not surprised by the info from the linked post.

  19. #19 Andy Brown
    August 23, 2010

    “Muslims adhere to a set of repressive laws they call “Sharia” laws, and don’t recognize that their beliefs and practices are intended to comply with federal, state, and local laws and protections.”

    Um, that’s utter BS. I can’t believe you would write something so blatantly untrue here. It shows a complete lack of understanding of how Islam actually exists in the real world (as opposed to how it exists in the xenophobic fantasies of frightened Americans.)

    As for the “mosque controversy” – that’s just an embarrassment.

  20. #20 Louis
    August 23, 2010

    My thinking has changed so much over the years. At one time I did believe that my government was inept but had laudable
    motives. I no longer believe that. That’s a sad thing to say
    for somebody who loves their country. Any reasonable person can easily observe that our country is in serious trouble. The crisis is consolidating power into the hands of international bankers, as Thomas Jefferson warned us.
    I hope everyone here will take some time to study the basics of the system called “Central Banking” It is in my opinion
    evil. see: Infowars.com or Prisonplanet.com
    You are not crazy. There are groups that want more than money. They seek nothing less than the power to control others.

  21. #21 Oikoman
    August 24, 2010

    Wow! Judging from the comments, you’d think everyone reading this blog is typing away from some underground shelter in the backwoods of Oregon, while sitting on crates of ammunition and canned beans surrounded by assault rifles and shooting targets with pictures of government officials and immigrants taped to them.

  22. #22 Stephen B.
    August 24, 2010

    Oh cut it out Oikoman!

    I know your comment is sort of tongue in cheek, but seriously, citizens are beginning to speak out besides the ones fitting that old survivalist stereotype that, in any case, is getting more worn out every day.

  23. #23 John Andersen
    August 24, 2010

    I agree with Stephen B. We need to bow out to the greatest extent possible.

    A key way to do that is to buy local.

    And as Stephen also said, Sharon has shown us dozens and dozens of other ways to opt out of the fixed system.

    Now’s time for acting.

  24. #24 Billie
    August 24, 2010

    You are right! They definitely aren’t trying to save my home because apparently I made sound financial decisions and as a result can’t participate in the many programs to reduce my interest rate and payments.

    Because I don’t make less money and because I am not behind in my bills or whatever other bars must be met, I must still stick with my original mortgage instead of being able to refinance and take advantage of the many programs out there to help those that didn’t make sound financial decisions. Makes you wonder why you didn’t deliberately do something stupid so you too could be saved from your financial mistakes.

  25. #25 Oikoman
    August 24, 2010

    Yes, I’m taking the piss, but to read through some of the comments about invading hordes of immigrants, muslims, immigrant muslims, big government, big corporations, roving gangs, marauding tornadoes, etc. and many of the commentors thinking we are just one tiny push away from anarchy and collapse (on one hand) and being ruled by our banker, government, corporate overlords on the other hand, I really have to wonder why what was an extreme, paranoid, and very much minority viewpoint of individualist survival and struggle when I left the states has mutated into this mainstream streak of paranoia and fear.

    What I find most disturbing is the whole us vs. them (pick a them, any them) aspect of it… even the simple ‘opting out’ approach is essentially a way of saying “I’ll look after myself, I don’t care what happens to my neighbor”. Contrast this with the (often imperfectly realized) community approach to problems I so often see in Europe and I can’t help feeling that underlying a lot of this talk of doom-and-gloom is a streak of ugly selfishness papered over with a perverse pride in “seeing it as it is” and “being prepared for the worst”. I can amost imagine several of the commentors actually wishing that their particular vision of disaster will come through (and no doubt fantasizing that they alone survive the aftermath).

  26. #26 Sharon Astyk
    August 24, 2010

    Actually, I’m sort of with Oikoman – at least in part – looking at the scapegoating of Moslems and immigrants here, I’m trying to decide what I did to attract such racist bullshit – bullshit that scares the crap out of me, because frankly, if you can do it to the Moslems and the immigrants, you can do it to the Jews and the gay folk too.

    That said, I don’t think Oikoman quite gets the point made by readers like Stephen and others who aren’t among the finger pointing types – the shift here isn’t to bunkers, but to self-organization and local and community response. And those self-organizations have a political dimension that is important too.

    I’m reminded of Sheldon Wolin’s argument that 1930s self-help and self-organization strategies that emerged from the Depression scared the shit out of Roosevelt and his colleagues, and in part drove government into doing useful things for people because otherwise it would be obvious to governments that those things could be done without them. Moreover, in times of crisis, these kinds of self-organized localized programs have a long history of being nationalized, assuming governments are functional – they need useful models right away when events take over. So the food rationing programs of WWI, which were voluntary, self organized and community level were adopted almost wholesale into rationing strategies for WWII – and there are plenty of other examples.

    Stepping out of the formal economy, stepping into forms of community self-organization is not the same thing as holing up in a bunker.

    Sharon

  27. #27 Ewan R
    August 24, 2010

    I would contend that “if the cash economy ended today” 100% of property would “belong” to whoever could defend tenancy of said property with firepower. Banks would be looted then burnt to the ground.

    If the cash economy ends, who’s gonna waste their time looting a bank? If you need toilet paper loot a sams club.

  28. #28 Jason
    August 24, 2010

    Yes, I know these programs may be failing in the larger picture and my n=1 does not equal a useful analysis of the problem. But clearly some are being helped. One of my closest friends and her husband just had their first child just as her husband lost his job. They are back on their feet, but if not for HAMP they would almost certainly have lost their home.

    Also, agreed that the joyful glee some seem to express towards doomsday fantasies and racist anti-immigrant attitudes are both disgusting.

  29. #29 darwinsdog
    August 24, 2010

    #25:

    I really have to wonder why what was an extreme, paranoid, and very much minority viewpoint of individualist survival and struggle when I left the states has mutated into this mainstream streak of paranoia and fear.

    The herd is always slow to come to their collective senses.

    #26:

    Stepping out of the formal economy, stepping into forms of community self-organization is not the same thing as holing up in a bunker.

    Still doesn’t hurt to have that bunker dug, just in case.. ;)

    #27:

    If the cash economy ends, who’s gonna waste their time looting a bank? If you need toilet paper loot a sams club.

    Gold & jewelery in the safty deposit boxes.

  30. #30 dewey
    August 24, 2010

    BradK – You’re not seeming at your most reasonable today (American Muslims have 8 children apiece? And a fifth of the world’s population are “taught to kill all nonbelievers”???) so maybe this isn’t the best time to argue a detail, but:

    “most of the money coming in goes for stock for the store, and for salaries. And taxes… few stores make 68 cents of each dollar coming in as after-expenses profit…. So I don’t buy the “68 cents of every dollar””

    Yeah, but when the hardware store owner must use a sizable fraction of his revenue to pay his employees a salary, that money goes to workers who also live, and therefore shop, in the community. As for taxes, some go directly or indirectly to the local government, which spends much of the money on the police and fire departments that protect his property, or on such communist notions as libraries, parks, streetlights, and street cleaning. State taxes support local schools that prepare local young people to work a cash register, and maintain the roads that customers and delivery trucks use to get to his store. The government employees who are paid to provide all of those services do also live and shop in the community.

  31. #31 Andy Brown
    August 24, 2010

    “looking at the scapegoating of Moslems and immigrants here, I’m trying to decide what I did to attract such racist bullshit.”

    The cognitive scientists call it “mortality salience”. When people get anxious about death, one of the strongest tendencies is to circle the wagons – and us versus them comes to the forefront. It’s one of the great challenges to progressive (and communitarian) politics – that conservatives and nativists can take advantage of this predictable lurch each and every time fear strikes a political population.

  32. #32 Claire
    August 24, 2010

    Also, thinking about disasters – not wanting them, but considering carefully what are possibilities in your area and coming up with both individual *and community* responses to them – is the best way to keep people alive and in the best possible mental and emotional state if/when such disasters happen. One example: codes were changed in our area in the 1990s so new river bridges built since then must withstand some level of earthquake (I don’t have the scale number handy), and older bridges were retrofitted to withstand that same level of earthquake. That’s a positive response to considering what might happen the next time one of the Midwest faults gives way. So are building codes in Florida that meant my parents’ condo – in fact the whole complex – was undamaged from Hurricane Charley in 2004, while areas of Port Charlotte that were built in the 1960s and 1970s suffered heavy damage. I have a weather radio so I can hide in the basement during a tornado warning, and nonelectric means to prepare food and other such things for the inevitable weather-related emergencies we get. That’s not survivalist, it’s sensible. Then I can help someone else who may not be as well prepared, or let newcomers to the area know how to prepare.

    If we mention the potential disasters here, it’s not because we are hole-dwelling survivalists, but because we want ourselves *and everyone else* to have a reasonable level of preparation for such events – individually and at various levels of community. If we worry that the scale of certain types of disasters could threaten society’s ability to cope, it’s because we’ve had previews of that, and we hope to increase resiliency by letting folks know what could happen so they can work to reduce the likelihood of social breakdowns in the case of disasters.

  33. #33 Stephen B.
    August 24, 2010

    I certainly agree with Oikoman’s post #25. His/her earlier post didn’t really mean much to me, but I certainly concur with the latter post’s thrust. Scapegoating is and will run rampant in the US and each one of us really should put forth our best effort possible to speak up for what’s really right rather than beat up others for who they simply are or where they come from. In that, I now understand the implications of Oikoman’s survivalist comment earlier.

    I’d comment more, but I’m just peaking in while on break at work….busy, busy, busy…ugh!

  34. #34 darwinsdog
    August 24, 2010

    Re darwinsdog’s suggestion of a line of intense tornadoes in the Midwest being a breaking point: it’s possible but seems less likely to a Midwesterner like me than some other potential disasters I can imagine.

    I chose that example not because I considered it the most likely scenario but probably because I was recently reading about how a squall line that pretty much spanned the width of the Amazon Basin killed half a billion trees in 2005. If such an event had occurred in a more developed and heavily populated region the consequences would have been devastating.

    I grew up in Illinois, Claire, and I remember an earthquake that occurred when I was a teenager. I was in the basement of my friend’s house and glass jars of canned goods began falling off the shelf. I don’t know if this is still considered the cause of the quake but at the time geologists were saying that topsoil displaced from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico had unbalanced the North American Plate and this earthquake was the result of the plate adjusting to the weight redistribution.

    There are lots of potential precipitating events for ecological and social collapse. I just named a couple that came to mind when I made that post. Here’s another: cracks run north/south for hundreds of kilometers near the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of the Carolinas. If a mass wasting event was to occur whereby massive amounts of overburden slid down the continental slope, the resultant tsunami would devastate both the eastern coast of North America and western coast of Africa. How likely is such an event anytime soon? Nobody knows. Probably a lot more likely than a large extraterrestrial bolide impact.

  35. #35 Ed Straker
    August 24, 2010

    “The fact is, population rises and available land area doesn’t. ALL real estate will end up in the hands of the rich.”

    Not really a problem for a long while. People can be packed into very tight spaces. Where do you think all the evicted homeowners went? Answer: They aren’t all living in tent cities or their cars due to a lack of housing.

    So there is plenty of physical room for people. There isn’t plenty of room where you’d actually WANT to live (proximity to jobs, good schools, and services). Hence the crash of exurban real-estate and the steady prices in inner-rung suburbs and gentrified city developments.

  36. #36 Ed Straker
    August 24, 2010

    “Yes, I’m taking the piss, but to read through some of the comments about invading hordes of immigrants, muslims, immigrant muslims, big government, big corporations, roving gangs, marauding tornadoes, etc. and many of the commentors thinking we are just one tiny push away from anarchy and collapse (on one hand) and being ruled by our banker, government, corporate overlords on the other hand, I really have to wonder why what was an extreme, paranoid, and very much minority viewpoint of individualist survival and struggle when I left the states has mutated into this mainstream streak of paranoia and fear.”

    It’s true many people are seeing phantoms with nothing concrete to back them up. And that kind of thing does drive me up the wall. But if indeed we’re living in an analog to the last days of Rome, would it be paranoid to fear the barbarian horde?

    You have to judge people’s fears on a case-by-case basis.

    I could just as well say that your desire to shrug all of this off as paranoia reflects your inability to accept the possibility of black swans or collapse. That’s what 50+ years of post-WWII prideful triumphalism has done to the american psyche. We are supremely complacent.

    Look at what’s happening in Pakistan right now, for instance. We’re living in an era chock full of black swans as a result of slamming up against limits to growth. If people are scared, in large part it’s justified. They may sling bad predictions (as doomers usually do) but a general sense of the other shoe being about to drop is perfectly justified.

    We’re looking at death by a thousand cuts and it makes sense that after we get the first dozen nicks or so that we start to look around every corner and flinch rather than thinking that everything’s gonna be alright.

  37. #37 darwinsdog
    August 24, 2010

    Look at what’s happening in Pakistan right now, for instance. We’re living in an era chock full of black swans ..

    What’s happening in Pakistan right now is hardly a so-called “black swan” event. It’s the predictable and inevitable result of overpopulation, overgrazing, deforestation and watershed mismanagement. It’s the consequence of ruining the greater Indus River ecosystem. Likewise, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the result of a century of channelization and levee building along the Mississippi, and consequent degradation of the salt marshes that used to act as cushions against hurricanes. Great rivers are supposed to periodically inundate their floodplains. When people develop the floodplains which then flood, who do they have to blame for their misfortunes but themselves? It’s stupid to blame the river. It’s stupid to call it an “act of God.” It’s like the guy the other day who said that the British Islands are too small for their present day population rather than saying that the present day population is too large for the size of the islands. Black swans don’t exist until someone sees & photographs one. Floods and other self-inflicted environmental disasters happen all the time.

  38. #38 tamakazura
    August 24, 2010

    Was anyone under the false impression that the government WAS trying to save your house?
    The housing bubble pop did not sneak up on anyone. Anyone who denies that was refusing to look at evidence in front of their face. When the place by the train-tracks with the sewer that empties into the front yard is selling for > a million (I kid you not), something’s got to give! If even a person with an upper middle class salary can’t pay off a house in thirty years with constant employment, something’s got to give. Guess what? With a better paying job than most in the area, I’m still going to be renting for the near future because I can’t buy a house, condo, cardboard box without taking on a truly epic ammount of debt, and I don’t even have kids to worry about.

    I’m going to predict that this housing market crash is far from over. Either the American dream needs to change to the point where people don’t need to buy, salaries need to go way up (not going to happen), or the market deflates until houses are affordable on a normal salary and you can’t make more than you could with a real job by buying houses with money you don’t have and then flipping them.

  39. #39 tamakazura
    August 24, 2010

    So, I guess my point was, for the above rant, that No. The government is not trying to save your house.
    The government should not be trying to save your house.
    Your house is not worth what you paid for it. By insisting that it is and taking artificial measures to prop up that imaginary price, you are prolonging the slow and painful but totally natural burst of this bubble and shutting the next generation of families out of the market.

  40. #40 Robert S.
    August 24, 2010

    If you want to see a true economic shitstorm, look at places with negative population growth. Look what happens when there isn’t a pyramid of younger workers to support the costs of supporting those who are old. If we limit immigration, and all have replacement or fewer children, who exactly will pay for the knee replacements, the bypass surgeries, the 20 years in round the clock care facilities? For all the problems that a growing population causes, a contracting population is much more problematic. We have to make the choice, get more people in at the bottom, or allow the top to crumble.

  41. #41 dewey
    August 25, 2010

    Robert S – That is a demographic transition that has to, just by simple mathematics, happen at some point. Unless someone discovers a way of jamming an infinite population onto a finite planet and feeding it, the trend whereby every generation is bigger than the one before cannot go on forever. And yes, the transition to a steady state may be quite disruptive for the generation that finds fewer young taxpayers around to pay for their surgeries and nursing homes – which is why, IMHO, we should get it over with as soon as possible, before the absolute number of old folks needing support gets any larger.

    We also might make the transition easier by questioning the necessity of some of the huge expenditures you mention. Bypass surgeries actually have little or no long-term benefit, and carry about a 50% rate of post-surgery cognitive decline. Perhaps when we are old and atherosclerotic we might better go on the Ornish program instead. Knee replacements, and perhaps any major surgery in the frail elderly, are also associated with sometimes dramatic cognitive decline; my father could afford artificial joints but has chosen to tolerate his painful knees rather than run the risk. And, dare I whisper this, some of us would rather die when our functional lives are over than live for twenty years as nursing home vegetables, and just maybe, when money gets tight enough, the state will consider legalizing medical alternatives to my own .38 caliber retirement plan.

  42. #42 darwinsdog
    August 25, 2010

    And, dare I whisper this, some of us would rather die when our functional lives are over than live for twenty years as nursing home vegetables, and just maybe, when money gets tight enough, the state will consider legalizing medical alternatives to my own .38 caliber retirement plan.

    dewey, the more of your posts I read the more impressed I become. You are one of Sharon’s most consistently cogent posters.

  43. #43 Eric
    August 29, 2010

    My grandma’s dogs would go out and not return when they were ready; how many “wandering elders” are ready to go but don’t have a suitable place to lay down quietly?

    Eric

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