Sunday, October 28, 2007


We've been sleepwalking into the future for years. Now the future is here. Crude oil closed at $91.86 on Friday. A month from now it'll close at $101.86. Welcome to the future; do yourself a favor and check your favorite fantasies and delusional behaviors at the door.

So today as my cigarette habit sets noisily in the west, I'm doing a little sleeptalking to myself. I know the routine so well I don't have to be awake to recite it. The Revolution will be televised. Forget Lenin and Robespierre. The foundations of Empire will soon be demolished to powder by organic carrots and armies of pacifist mystical chanting Buddhist vegetarians.

Americans are still dreaming that they'll be able to keep their insolent chariots running somehow -- on biodiesel, or electricity, or hydrogen, or French-fry grease. Meanwhile, Paris (France, not Texas) has begun to free itself from the embrace of the four-cylinder dinosaurs and rediscovered the bicycle, with the most progressive city in the U.S., Portland (Oregon, not Maine) soon to follow. As in so many other facets of the current economy, the past is the future.

Meanwhile, the numbers of house foreclosures set new records in September. They'll set new, and unprecedented ones in January, February, and March of next year. Real estate prices are going to drop anywhere from 50 to 95 percent in the next 40 months or so, depending on whether the property in question is viable (i.e., fairly close-in to a center of commerce and within reach of public transportation) or some loser McMansion in the farthest distant reaches of Slurbia. Those will end up abandoned, the yards turned into weedy jungles and the green swimming pools breeding mosquitos, and unsellable at any price. The cost of gasoline and heating oil and electricity will see to that.

It's nice to know that the gangsta lendahs who victimized the gullible during the first half of the decade, the Countrywides and the DiTechs, are losing their butts, but the problem is the collapse of the finance "industry" hurts a lot of us little guys too. This is certainly a very bad time to be in debt, and the more debt, the more trouble, for as the value of the dollar weakens against other currencies, debtors will be forced to repay expensive dollars with cheap ones.

But what it all means for people who have more assets than liabilities is hard to say. I don't really understand the dismal science of economics all that well, and a lot of what I read seems self-contradictory. However, another non-economist like myself, Manuel Garcia, provides an interesting look at future possibilities with his article called "Homes of the Crash Test Dummies."

Obviously the prices of some things are going to rise astronomically -- gasoline and all other forms of energy especially, but also stuff like insurance. The cost of other things, such as housing and a lot of consumer items such as furniture will fall rapidly. Hundreds of thousands of construction workers are or soon will be out of jobs, but on the other hand our now-arrived future will provide a tremendous market for people who know how to repair things.

Food is the most interesting and unpredictable commodity, because local farmers' markets and food cooperatives will start to come into play, and begin to elbow out the Safeways and Winn-Dixies, purveyors of our current diet of overpriced, overprocessed agribusiness stuff. But nobody knows how much influence alternative, local sources of food will have, or how quickly they'll come into their own.

Health care for the masses is a gigantic question mark.

It seems to me we're entering a sea-change as or more significant than the Great Depression, and that the economic crisis whose beginnings are now upon us will accomplish what decades of revolutionary rhetoric couldn't -- an end to our various war machines and their incessant wars, on Iraq, on Iran, on terror, on drugs, and mostly on common sense and sanity.

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