[This is an updated post.]
Peak Oil, Climate change and the Greater Depression will pose many challenges to our way of life but let’s get real, for a moment: Golden Hordes aren’t one of them. At least not now. Economic depression brings with it a host of serious problems, and I think you can say quite confidently, without being a chicken little, that most of the world is in a Greater Depression. But still, we’ve got a few years to go before we can say that the USA is no longer a viable culture, when no one wants to live in Paris or London, when potatoes no longer grow in Poland, and before donkey’s begin pulling our rusted-out cars. Bikers with shotguns; weaving socks from milk thistle; crashing waves drowning our cities; evacuating your house on a moments notice to house troops; the government coming to confiscate your precious metals; a mass exodus of cities as the violence and mayhem escalates to untolerable levels—all of these things should not be on the top of the list of what to prepared for.
So what should be?
1. Job loss is up there.
2. We’ve already seen retirement accounts deteriorate, leaving us less money to live on in our aging years.
3. Our elderly today, like that 93 year-old who froze to death in his kitchen, will face real challenges in keeping themselves medicated, warm and fed. It may be time to get concerned about the old folks who live on your street, and start having tea with them on alternating days.
4. The rising price of everything from food to fuel is likely to be a serious problem for a lot of us.
5. Food pantries won’t be able to feed all of the people who need resources from them, and people who used to give generously to those same pantries, might now be lining up for help.
6. Managing depression–emotional depression, that is, should be up there.
7. We’ll also have to deal with the harmful side-affects of worry and fear, not brought on by the FBI tapping our telephones, but because we have no clue where the money’s going to come from to pay off our credit cards.
8. Domestic violence will be on the rise. So will alcoholism, drug abuse and out-of-control gambling.
9. Our towns, cities, regions, and states will continue to face serious problems. They will increasingly have trouble funding basic services like police, fire, education, sanitation collection and health services.
10. The evaporation of the housing bubble will mean fewer property taxes really soon. They will need more tax dollars, and yes, those who live within their jurisdiction will be the ones they’ll tap. You’ll also be asked to contribute more money toward things that used to be paid for by your governments. They may not confiscate your fire arms, but they will tax you for each and every one of them, as yet another source of income.
11. Rising taxes will mean less household money for food, fuel, etc.
12. Higher taxes will mean fewer dollars in your pocket and less support for local businesses.
13. More failing businesses will mean less tax revenues for basic services. Repeat bullets 10, 11 and 12 above.
14. What we really have to fear is desperate towns and cities selling off basic services, like fire protection services and water rights, to multinationals, in an effort to raise short term cash. That’s something to be afraid of. When that happens, you’ll see escalating prices for basic utilities more frightening than UFO’s hovering over your town hall.
15. More sick people doesn’t mean a sudden massive die-off, but it does mean more of those killer colds and flu’s that wipe out a great number of little kids and grandmothers.
16. Given how many people work for some branch, or are funded by the US Government, fewer tax dollars means more governmental workers losing their jobs.
17. Yes, there will be protests and some riots. Yes, some city residents, already suffering from years of unemployment and poverty, will rage at being unable to make ends meet on the social programs that use to be barely adequate.
18. I’m not saying don’t worry about global warming causing a new ice age that will leave one mile-thick ice throughout North America and much of Europe. I’m just saying it should be lower on your priority list than the greater chance that your basement is going to flood more often and that your insurance company is no longer going to cover it or tell you so until it happens and you need it.
19. Yes, keep several 50-gallon rain buckets, but not so you can live another week when Yellow Stone’s volcano erupts, wiping out life as we know it in the US, but so you can water your garden as you get less rainfall each year.
20. Crime will increase. But you won’t have 40 inner-city youth with oozies ransacking your living room. The kid who lives down the street, the one that couldn’t get a summer job, he’ll be the one stealing your stuff. Keep teens busy. We’ll need them even more as time goes on.
21. Grocery stores will get “tough on crime” as our “voleurs par faim” (thieves by reason of hunger), who might have been generally tolerated in the past, will now grow to intolerable numbers.
22. Dreams will die: the dream of an exotic vacation, a college or private school education, career advancement, or a comfortable retirement.
23. Marriages and relationships will end, because they’ve never known hard times, and when one or both turn away from the other, in response to the troubles, instead of growing closer because of them.
24. Small businesses will close, taking all the owner’s sweat equity and all the better-paid, long-time employees with them.
25. Closing local business means we’ll have to travel longer distances to shop, or pay the shipping costs for things that we used to be able to get in our neighborhoods. Gasoline will become, for many items, more expensive than the stuff we are buying. Shipping costs will also make online shopping more expensive .
26. We will suffer the greatest pains over lost dreams where we’ve imagined that we’ve failed our children or grandchildren. As H.S. Sullivan (who started his professional life during the Great Depression) has written:
“Marked economic disturbances usually have either general or specific reasons, and have very marked effects on the course of personality development. Parents almost always aim their children at something, which the children either seek or avoid at all costs, but big economic change may lead to tragic revision of the parental ambitions with corresponding effects on the childrens’ goals and so on, and may leave permanent marks.”
27. The age of your children will impact the effect the change will have on them. If they are under age 8, the parental utterances they hear around your home, will be most impactful. The family establishes the worldview, and sets the tone. Like a light mist surrounding the child, they either uplift or cover your child with despair.
28. Unlike during the Great Depression, however, when employers were willing to hire children at slave wages, and children were therefore able to help out financially in real tangible ways, our children–even our teenagers–won’t have jobs. No, this will not be your grandmother’s Great Depression.
29. Instead of trying to explain why your children have to become cobblers, practice saying things like: “No, Tommy/Jane, I won’t be buying you that this year, because we are all needing to cut back on our spending. I know you are disappointed or angry. I can understand that. I wish it were different, but it isn’t. You’ll always have what you need, but that item isn’t a necessity, and we can’t afford to buy it for you.”
30. If your children or grandchildren are near college-aged, these plans for higher educational may be dashed. Many of us will have already tapped out our home equity line of credit, or if we haven’t, the banks won’t lend to us anyway. Even IF we have great credit scores.
31. If our children or grandchildren are active in a profession, and manage to keep their jobs, they may find themselves having to financially support a larger social network. They’ll take in their parents and grandparents, cousins, friends. We’ll have to learn the value of NOT expressing ourselves–our frustrations, our dislikes, our annoyances and fight with our spouses in private–as we all live in cramped quarters.
32. And things will start to look older and shabbier: Cars that we drive, clothes that we wear, homes that we live in. We’ll understand the word “decaying” in a whole new way, when we can’t afford to replace our roofs, or repair our driveways.
33. We’ll stay home a heck of a lot more, especially when the car breaks down, and we don’t have the cash to fix it.
34. Most of us will continue to find the cash to watch cable television, while we eat crappier food, and we’ll hear a repetitive message that while some people are suffering, everything is still dandy. They’ll imply our suffering is our own fault.
35. Our military budget will continue to increase, while our domestic budget will continue to decrease.
36. Wars will increase, no matter who is President. We will fear for our young people, more of whom will find the military the only option for a “secure” job. They’ll fight over oil. They’ll fight over land. They’ll be deployed in non-residental states where they’ll institute “crowd control” made up of somebody else’s family and friends with “non-lethal weapons.” They’ll be deployed in our cities to keep “order.”
37. More of us will wait in absurd traffic lines to be “checked,” without knowing or caring what we are being “checked” for.
38. Fancier electronic ways will be developed by governments to separate us from our money–automatically.
39. We’ll find ourselves with less time and more work hours to pay for a lifestyle that’s barely equivalent.
40. We’ll spend more of our week-ends or vacation time doing chores and repair work we used to pay someone else to do.
41. Our children will see more of us, as we will cut corners to cut daycare costs, but there’ll be less of us to see.
42. Despite our best intentions, our emotional and physical fatigue will leave us little left over for the types of religious, social or charitable work we’d assumed we’d continue to do. Our grandparents– a much more religious and social group than we are– dropped out of their community involvements in huge numbers during the Great Depression. So will we. We’ll learn how valuable our “free time” was, when we stop having very much of it.
43. We’ll learn the lesson so many African nations have learned, that under-nutrition impacts our ability to process information cognitively, produce healthy children, and fight injustice. We should be fearful that people who need food stamps and school breakfasts and lunches will stop getting them. If we’re smart, we’ll target our priorities with a laser focus, stick to the basics, and keep our priorities straight. Full bellies make better neighbors.
44. We will find ourselves with a lot less energy to pretend we’re someone we aren’t, and a lot less money to keep up that illusion.
45. Those times we told other people that we ‘just couldn’t live without X,Y, or Z’– we’ll learn that we can. Some of us will be surprised to find out that we don’t miss the things we were so sure we couldn’t live without.
46. The longer we keep trying to convince ourselves that everything is the same, that nothing has changed, the more battered our souls will feel. After a period of loud protestation, beating of the chest, cries proclaiming how unfair it all is, and how this can’t be happening to us, we’ll quiet down.
47. We’ll have to swallow the news that most people who don’t live in the “developed” world already got: “we aren’t automatically entitled to be wealthy, have an easy life, be constantly amused,” and for some, that fact will make life absolutely miserable. For others, it will be a great liberation.
Take a quote from Studs Terkel’s book on the Great Depression:
“I never liked the idea of living on scallions in the left bank garret. I liked writing in comfort. So I went into business, a classmate and I. I thought I’d retire in a year or two. And a thing called Collapse, bango! socked everything out. 1929. All I had left was a pencil…There was nothing else to do. I was doing light verse at the time, writing a poem here and there for ten bucks a crack. It was an era when kids at college were interested in light verse and ballads and sonnets. This is the early Thirties. I was relieved when the Crash came. I was released. Being in business was something I detested. When I found that I could sell a song or a poem, I became me, I became alive. Other people didn’t see it that way. They were throwing themselves out of windows.Someone who lost money found that his life was gone. When I lost my possessions, I found my creativity. I felt I was being born for the first time. So for me, the world became beautiful.With the Crash, I realized that the greatest fantasy of all was business. The only realistic way of making a life was versifying. Living off your imagination.”
48. We’ll start doing what we want, (as long as it’s free) because we won’t have the opportunity to do much else.
49. Some of us will be forced to move to poorer neighborhoods and will be surprised to find out them filled with decent people. We’ll find ourselves delighted to have working-class neighors who can actually fix the plumbing, repair the toilet, or get your truck running–and won’t charge us a dime. Some will keep our neighborhoods intact, while watching others will watch them be bulldozed.
50. We’ll learn to eat ‘Soul Food’–all the parts of the animal Black folks learned to cook with, because White folks wouldn’t touch that type of meat. And it will taste good, and we’ll be grateful to have it.
51. And no, of course not, it won’t be this way for all of us: Some of us will have to hide our excessive purchases in our closets or in plain paper bags.
52. Some of us will put on less elaborate cocktail parties.
53. Some of us will trade our newly-bankrupted husband for a wealthier one.
54. Some of us will watch the worst of this Greater Depression from the comfort of our “still working lives,” and will retain much of what we need to get by, in a comfort that we now appreciate a great deal more.
55. Some of us will learn the comfort of prayer or group worship. We will “get it” that there exists something greater than ourselves-whether it be G-d, community or family. The concept of who makes up our family, will grow for some of us and shrink for others.
But if there is anything at all we need to be afraid of, it is our sense of hubris that won’t admit to ourselves that this “everyday dreariness” is the worst of it or the best of it. It will be our desire to cling to a group or a leader who promises to restore our former glory. What will give us inspiration will be our capacity to see the great gifts delivered to us in these “every-day tragedies,” the blessing inside every misfortune, the spirit inside every hardship that will pull us through. The gift will be in our capacity to recognize that the “hard times” we are living with, right now, ARE real, and that our struggles are shared by millions of other people world-wide. And, while most of us are unlikely to end up in some governmental concentration camp, any time soon, we might easily end up in a hell of our own making, if we don’t accept how ordinary and ‘just like today only worse’ it will all be tomorrow, making today ‘just like tomorrow, only better.’