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Introducing the Downside

The Downside blog is an exercise which will become at some point in the future a testament to optimism or despair. But the premise is simple. This blog is the thinking man’s guide to impending doom. It is the almanac of the economic apocalypse which may or may not include zombies – metaphorical or otherwise. One might say it is about doomsday prepping, or survival skills, but such things cannot actually be done in a blog. This place is more about wonders and signs, about making sense of things that fall apart and making the appropriate mental and spiritual adjustments that will have us clear-eyed and walking if things go from pear-shaped to rotten.

So let’s get started.

The Downside At Cobb

I would like to begin entertaining speculation about the post crash economy. When America walks off the fiscal cliff, what’s going to happen? For the time being, I’ll just kick this off here at Cobb, but I’m thinking about starting a whole new blog for that purpose.

I had an interesting conversation with a guy I’ll call Axel F. yesterday. He reminded me that the PD in Detroit is warning people away – they are on strike and there are portions of the city that are without electricity. Axel says there is no real inflection point, but that we will boil like frogs. He mentioned the experience of a dude he knew who watched Argentina go through collapse slowly but surely.

In one way this is exactly what I expected, that you only need watch the cereal aisle and the cookie aisle. Some time before there are only corn flakes and Chips Ahoy, you will start noticing that there is a lot less variety. The difference between Vons, Whole Foods and Food 4 Less becomes smaller and smaller, and the prices for the basics creep higher and higher. Then one day there are no more raspberries. Hey? What happened to raspberries?

As it stands, there are far fewer vegetables in the US than there used to be. If I remember correctly, there used to be some 50 different varieties of apples, or was it potatoes? Now there are few. It would take someone like me a very long time to notice that there is no more kale, because I just don’t eat that stuff. And what about radishes and beets? Who knows where the unpopular veggies have gone? I doubt that even vegans, in their vainglory, make much of a stink about stinky vegetables. I suspect very strongly that they too are quite literally cherry picking. I am very interested in the economies of food, because I am a foodie, and this is likely to be one of my specialties if the collaborative blog comes off. I’m simply interested to know how much of our infrastructure and delivery systems are at risk, and how exactly various market mechanisms do or do not make the proper difference. Michael Pollan is my guiding light in this matter. Still, most people’s point is that they only care about food with regard to how attractive it makes them and with no regard to how sustainable the crop is.

Anyway, that’s just one dimension of potential collapse I’m interested in. The other is actual civil engineering and the availability of electricity. Thirdly, I’m interested in civil defense and the potential return of chivalry.

With regard to civil engineering, isn’t it a marvelous coincidence that this morning I heard on Bloomberg that part of our energy problem is that environmental legislation has just bumped up the cost of oil provision beyond the capacity of the entire refining capacity of the East Coast of the US. Basically, the infrastrucutre required to upgrade the refineries specific to Pennsylvania is insufficiently economic to make petroleum products at today’s prices, given the slim margins on the cost of raw oil. One of the only ways to solve this problem would be to get cheaper oil from Canada via, guess what? The Erie Canal. So that would speak directly to what I see is an education problem. Meaning we would have to start training people to be barge operators rather than chemical engineers. That the investment in Pennsylvania oil refineries is never going to happen because it will cost 2 billion dollars, that no bank is going to loan because we fell off the fiscal cliff.

I’ll speak more about chivalry in the comments, but basically refer back to matters of¬†Neo-Victorian¬†subjects.