Monday, March 31, 2008

The Collapse Party Platform

My forthcoming book, Reinventing Collapse, has just gone to print, and it is time to publish some excerpts. This being an election year in the US, I thought it fitting to circulate my little wish list of items that the US government could try to accomplish if it suddenly decided to make itself useful.

If the entire country were to embrace the notion that collapse is inevitable and that it must prepare for it, a new political party might be formed: the Collapse Party. If this party were to succeed in upending the two-party monopoly and forming a majority government, this government would then want to implement a crash program to dismantle institutions that have no future, create new ones that are designed to survive collapse and save whatever can be saved. If, further, this crash program somehow succeeded, in spite of constitutional limitations on government action, and in spite of the inevitable lack of financial resources for such an ambitious undertaking, and in spite of the insurmountable bureaucratic complexity, then I for one would be really surprised!

Barring such surprises, it sometimes happens that events spontaneously move us in a desirable direction while governments continue to usher us along toward an unbearably grim but mercifully unlikely future. And so here are some things that I would like to spontaneously happen, in preparation for collapse.

I am particularly concerned about all the radioactive and toxic installations, stockpiles and dumps. Future generations are unlikely to be able to control them, especially if global warming puts them underwater. There is enough of this muck sitting around to kill off most of us. There are abandoned mine sites at which, soon after the bulldozers and the excavators stop running, toxic tailings and the contents of settling ponds will flow into and poison the waters of major rivers, making their flood plains and estuaries uninhabitable for many centuries. Many nuclear power plants have been built near coastlines, for access to ocean water for cooling. These will be at risk of inundation due to extreme weather events and rising sea levels caused by global warming. At many nuclear power stations, spent fuel rods are stored in a pool right at the reactor site, because the search for a more permanent storage place has been mired in politics. There are surely better places to store them than next to population centers and bodies of water. Nuclear reservations — sites that have been permanently contaminated in the process of manufacturing nuclear weapons — should be marked with sufficiently large, durable and frightening obelisks to warn off travelers long after all memory of their builders has faded away.

I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas — abandoning its soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Not only is it an indelible stain on the country’s honor, it is an effective way to create a large underclass of desperate armed men who do not answer to any authority, creating a society where the price of a contract killing is only slightly higher than the price of the ammunition. The United States maintains over a thousand overseas military bases, most of which serve no purpose other than maintaining a megalomaniac fiction of American military superiority. They are often resupplied by private contractors, whose procurement operations rely on the domestic civilian economy. As long as the economy is intact, they can bring three flavors of ice cream to an air-conditioned tent in the middle of a desert, but once the economy collapses, they will collapse with it, and the military may turn out to lack even the resources to truck in water. Overseas military bases should be dismantled and the troops repatriated.

I would like to see the huge prison population whittled away in a controlled manner, ahead of time, instead of in a chaotic general amnesty. Such an amnesty will have to happen as a matter of course, once the resources that sustain the prison system stop flowing. The scenario to avoid is one in which, in the midst of general chaos, the entire population of prisoners is released en masse and, with no other resources available to them, they start plying their various criminal trades. Paroling the non-violent, shortening sentences, decriminalizing drugs, and providing room and board to former inmates, are all reasonable steps to take to prevent a crime wave of staggering proportions once the criminal justice system finally shuts down.

Lastly, I think that this farce with debts that will never be repaid has gone on long enough. Collateralized debt will evaporate once the value of the collateral is too low to secure the debt: if the house has no water, cannot be lit, heated or reached by transportation, its value is effectively zero, and so is the value of the mortgage. Non-collateralized debt, such as credit card debt in the post-bankruptcy-reform era, is secured by the threat of force — be it breaking legs or garnering wages — and even such measures bring diminishing returns in a collapsing economy. Wiping the slate clean ahead of time will give society some time to readjust to the new reality. Perhaps most importantly, by canceling debts before they become unrepayable, it may be possible to prevent the current system — one of indentured servitude based on debt — from evolving into a system of permanent servitude based on force: a new American slavery. I remain optimistic that the forces of chaos will prevent such a system from becoming entrenched; nevertheless, it might be prudent to take some measures to make such an outcome even less likely.

[Reinventing Collapse, p. 110-113]


Anonymous said...

Wise, and wry, as usual, Dmitry.

But no one is going to do stank.

It's death and damnation from here on out.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the 60% of Americans who bought a house I could afford, live within my means, and have no credit card debt. Neither do I have a flat panel television, a boat in the side yard, or other shows of affluence. It would piss me off to no end to have the excesses of the other 40% forgiven. Help them? Okay. But forgive them all their financial transgresses? No way.

Anonymous said...

Neil Lori Common Sense Program and Patriots For Common Sense strongly urges people to read Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov. I have read some of Dmitry's writings and in pages 110-113 in his book the most important ideas he has are to clean up as much toxic waste as is possible, bring all our troops home from overseas, and release nonviolent offenders from jail and prison. He is also correct that all the various kinds of debt in the USA can not bet paid off. email me at

Anonymous said...

Dmitri, I wish Americans had the good sense to do even half these things.

I'm sorry to say that grimly realistic foresight has not been a great strength of ours--ever. We're "optimistic" to the point of toxic delusion, over and over again. That probably means we'll have to learn the hard way.

I'm SO not looking forward to it, but you're absolutely right.

Dmitry Orlov said...

There is an interesting discussion subthread about this post on The Oil Drum:

Hadashi said...

Hi Dmitry

According to Ran Prieur (or Derrick Jensen) there used to be 'jubilees' that wipes debts clear from time to time. BTY I got the local library to order your book - and they ordered two. There's already a waiting list to read them! (me first).

Jon said...

A jubilee year occurred every 70 years, I believe, and was an Old Testament economic concept. Basically, everyone’s debts were forgiven and all slaves freed in the jubilee year. No doubt it got harder and harder to get a loan or sell a slave the closer you got to the year the reset button was pushed, if such a system was ever actually put into practice.

I guess jubilee years are kind of like depressions in that everyone goes broke and has to start over again. We could be facing the mother of all jubilee years.


Anonymous said...

Jubilee years were every 49 or 50 years (there is some dispute). They really did happen. Heck the Catholic Church still has them and celebrates them, and "urges" people to forgive all the debts of all their debtors. Slaves were often sold to people of nations who did not celebrate Jubilees, shortly before the Jubilee. Loans didn't get much easier or harder, because the ancient Jews refused to charge interest on loans, so loaning was pretty much a matter of social obligation rather than financial speculation. Indeed the world religions have all been pretty down on the practice of charging interest on loans until well into the middle ages when the Christians re-interpreted usury, to be charging "excessive" interest rather than charging any interest at all.
-Brian M.

Ricardo Parker said...

A few comments here:

Your claim that troops can be left stranded is a big assertion that the economy will collapse. While I don't doubt that's a possibility, I'm not sure that's where this country is. BTW, you speak from experience which is what makes your writing so great. I'm curious if you could provide examples of the SU having left soldiers stranded. It'd be interesting to read about that.

Second poster said she's one of the "60%" of Americans living within her means. I think that number is way off. It's more like 70% of Americans who are in debt, I think.

I was in heavy debt years ago. I came close to filing for bankruptcy. I chose to be responsible, and made the decision to work hard for two years, consume nothing and pay it all off. I have paid off my debt, with one interesting thing in the process: Chase, the one I had the highest balance with, called me and offered a settlement. I had to pay off my debt with them in 4 months, but I'd be paying only 70% of my balance. It was not easy, but I did that. It does not look great on my credit, but I so needed that break. Of course the "70% of the balance" they got is more actual money than what I borrowed from them, as they had my interest at 29% a year. I have no pity for Credit Card companies as they'd gladly turn people into slaves to make a profit.

What I'm trying to say here:
1) Is the government responsible for clearing this debt? I think the credit companies are. Perhaps they have no incentive, expecting that the government will bail them out (that is, they can write off these bad loans).
2) I have no pity for credit card company. This is a bad system where everyone is guilty: the government encourages people to shop so they can collect tax (power) and have a "strong economy". The CC companies will make people slaves if necessary so they can make a profit. People are mindless and will buy crap they don't need to impress other people
they don't care about.

Having said all that, I agree that the large majority of these debts will never be paid. I say that from personal experience because it was incredibly hard for me to pay off my debt, and I was only able to do it in as "strong economy" where I had a job that allowed me to shell out $2,500 a month for over a year, which went straight towards paying CC companies. I could not do that even today as my salary has decreased since.

Where's the Beef...I smell the Bull... said...

It took me all of two paragraphs of reading to decide that I am going to change my party affiliation from "none" to Collapse Party. Change WILL come in 2012 !

zon said...

sounds like the ones that claim to be debt free are not thinking that once they lose their jobs they will be forced into heavy debt real fast just to survive.