Thinking about the worst case scenario has been distracting me constantly for the last few months, to the detriment of my daily work. It has been, for me, the realisation of the apocryphal Chinese proverb, "May you live in Interesting times."
My stomach has been rolling, trying to figure what the options are for us, and I don't mean Irish people, I mean, all of us.
And my thoughts have been leaning in an apocalyptic direction. In his book, Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive, Jared Diamond outlines the results of resource exhaustion and overpopulation on a series of isolated societies through history. Most disappeared remarkably quickly.
When you look at almost every aspect of modern society, we are doing things fatally wrong.
The markets which we are most concerned with, the US and UK, are self-destructing. Keeping an eye on the business news every day does nothing but instil and renew a sense of fearful anticipation, for the coming crash. I think it almost goes without saying, the money will run out, and there will be a reckoning. These things are never pleasant, and the corrections we have coming in our direction - in the direction of the western world - are not going to be pleasant. And the correction doesn't just refer to simple economic markers like the Dow or the Hang Seng.
I don't think this will have a fallout limited to the western world, either. The other sides of the economic coin have been mimicking our "successful" model for the last forty years, and are "slouching toward bethlehem" in our company.
I don't want to be the dark pessimist, sitting in the corner, but I really fail to see any chinks of light. The American response to the crisis has been to dig a larger hole, a much larger hole than has been dug by any economy since Lloyd's first set up a coffee house in London, and modern economies began to emerge. Likewise Britain, and the ECB has been fluttering around, approving weakly of profanities like NAMA. We are not the only economy sitting on a bomb with a smouldering fuse. Greece, Spain, Italy, all of the Southern Baltic region, and the UK; all of these countries have much to fear in the coming years, and there are surely many candidates absent from my list because of my ignorance, not because they have healthier economies than those I have included.
Resources and Famines:
This might seem somewhat off topic for a website concerned with the irish property market, but topics here have been wideranging enough in the past, and world events will certainly have an enormous effect on our market too.
When I observe the waste of resources occurring all over the planet, and the accelerating development of this wastage, it rings a big bell in my head, a bell installed after the reading of Mr Diamond's book, and others on similar subjects. There will be an enforced correction of the way we live, the way we heat our houses, the way we fly our lettuce from Israel, and import drinking water from France and Fiji. It would be nice to think that this could last forever, but it cannot. Make a simple extrapolation of our usage of resources, and our growth of population, and it is rapidly becomes clear that we are not going to be able to stay on this path. An infrastructure is hard to build, easy to take for granted, and very easy to destroy. But very very difficult to replace from smoking ruins. Which leads me to my next thoughts.
The traditional response to situations like this was a good old war, cull the population, steal the resources of another country, and thus stave off the collapse for a little while. Or lose the war, and have them take the resources. Either way, someone won, the pressure is released.
The little wars going on now are minor skirmishes relative to those in the first half of the 20th century, and yet they are stretching the might of the American military to breaking point. In the event of a major conflict, what could they be reasonably expected to do? Withdraw back to their own shores, and turn off the radios perhaps? But where would they source the commodities they have been gorging on since the turn of the last century? Or would they have to resort to threats of a less conventional type of warfare?
And what then?
Science is feted as being our saviour, and it would be. If scientists had any power. The scientific method applied to the world's problems would solve them in a matter of decades. If every nation in the world ceded power to these fictional scientists, absolute power, and if they could be trusted with that power. And if there were enough scientists in the world.
Nations will not cede one iota of power.
Scientists could not be trusted with that power.
And there are nowhere near enough candidates to take the reins away from the blind deaf drivers of the world's governments and economies.
There has to be some enormously disruptive event, like the discovery of a new clean energy source, or the arrival of sentient computers, Ray Kurzweil's Singularity event. Without that, we are racing ever faster into the jaws of oblivion. We need an external factor to save us from ourselves, because we have proven again, and again to be incapable of saving ourselves.
If this doesn't happen, we are doomed, and I mean in our lifetimes.
This a set of loosely connected statements, which could be referred to as expressions of some form of insanity, but which I really can't get out of my head. I feel like i am sitting in the front seat of a car, heading for a high speed impact, and can do nothing about it.
I apologise for the darkness of my contribution to this thread, and I hope to goodness that I am wrong, and in fact, I would love to have any of what I have said here disagreed with in a way that would make it plain that I am in fact, in the throes of a mid life crisis, and couldn't be less correct.
The film of Cormac McCarthys book The Road is out soon, at least we know what to look forward to.