Monday, January 10, 2011

No One Need Apply

Last week's jobs report confirmed what a lot of people have felt on a gut level, that the various programs and packages which were designed to boost the economy and cut unemployment really aren't working as intended.  The unemployment rate is still very high and there is mention of "structural unemployment," even though this is disputed in the political circles.  Again, one's gut is the guide here -- if the economy has changed in such a way that the current level of unemployment is due to profound changes in the economy, then it's likely that we're seeing the birth of a new social class of permanently unemployed people.  The problem is not simply one of making a few tweaks to tax rates or changing trade policy, but instead a widespread lack of recognition that the economy itself is in such rough waters by now that anyone who falls over the side of the boat is likely lost. 

What is also unwritten is, if the current unemployment crisis is due to a mismatch of jobs and worker skills, do we reach a case where, no matter how good or diverse our skills are, that the jobs simply do not exist any longer?  In other words, if no jobs exist any longer, then everyone is going to be suffering from structural unemployment.  Part of the reason for this is the lack of hiring due to a lack of consumer spending, according to the official line.  Again, a little insight would probably suggest that this is likely to be a cascading cycle, where part of the consumer base reducing spending due to the inability to do anything more than survive leads to more unemployment and less spending by others as well. 

From the perspective of witnessing the arrival of the new Dark Age, this is just one more piece of evidence in the case for collapse.  High unemployment was a serious problem in ancient Rome, where slave labor displaced paid labor, and much time and energy was spent trying to deal with the social problems caused by the large class of the unemployed.  Likewise, as unemployment reaches historically high levels, the resources of the modern governments are going to be stretched even more in an attempt to try to deal with what is going to ultimately be an unsolvable problem -- having too many people and too little work for them.  This leaves national leaders with two unpalatable choices, either going broke in an attempt to provide a social safety net for steadily increasing numbers of unemployed, or face serious social instability as people no longer have even the barest guarantee of any kind of sustenance.

On a personal level, it's truly difficult to talk to a person who has been unemployed for an extended period of time, much like talking to a person who has a terminal disease.  You want to give them some sort of encouragement, a sign of hope, but the simple fact is, there are not many prospects for improving one's employment situation these days.  Even people who have jobs are simply trying to hold onto them and not find themselves out the door as their company downsizes yet again.

Given that the economy is probably not going to fundamentally improve, it's critical that we have some idea of how to deal with the situation on a personal or private basis, as part of our overall efforts to preserve and protect knowledge.  After all, if we're trying to fill our stomachs, then anything else takes a back seat.  I've written a bit (Living Arrangements) about what I think are three likely scenarios for some trends that are will occur due to changing social patterns, part of which will be caused by high unemployment.  However, to avoid being in this position, or suffering unduly from it, we need to plan ahead.

First, it's important that we do not look to our current employer, or even field of work, as being what we are going to be able to count on in the future.  There is simply too much uncertainty by this point to put all our eggs in one basket, be it an individual employer or one skill.  If we lose a paycheck, what then?  Do we have a plan in place or are we going to take unemployment and hope that the government checks don't bounce at some point down the road?

Second, we need to take a serious look at our own lives and determine if there are things we are doing which are wastefully expending resources that we could save for a future crisis.  I'm a big fan of recreation which is free, or costs next to nothing to do, for this reason, and shake my head when people engage in ultra-expensive hobbies such as automotive restoration.  Often, we can combine recreation with something which is also a way of creating a new source of income in a post-collapse world, such as brewing, sewing, building repair, intensive gardening, etc.

Third, we need to plan out a second skill or way of providing at least some income, especially in a society where the dollar (or euro) has ceased to exist.  What skills and goods can be traded without needing to go through some sort of financial system?  It may not provide a great living, but might be enough to either provide some food or fuel, or get a position working for someone who still has some resources.  It goes without saying that people should not necessarily be studying something which requires high technology to work, or a working power grid, or functional economy, etc. 

While we are entering a very rough period of human history, we at least have one thing going for us -- we understand what we are facing and can start readying ourselves for making the inevitable adjustments.  For people who still believe that currencies don't collapse, that empires don't end, the transition to a post-collapse economy will be even more vicious that it has been for those who are already in the limbo of unemployment.  We need to strive to make sure that we are able to provide for ourselves and those around us as we seek to preserve, protect and distribute knowledge.


  1. just found your sight through kunstlers site.thanks for the words.i find that reading all the doom and gloom sites (warranted up to a point) brings fear and paralysis into my life,whereas taking some form of constructive action (such as learning real life skills),preferably with others, removes those feelings.i study nutrition,cooking with very little energy, first aid and much more.peace

  2. Dan,

    I absolutely agree with you, which is why I started the Leibowitz Society in the first place. Yes, we are facing serious problems. Yes, it is going to be difficult at times. Yes, taking a close look at the world situation can be somewhat disheartening. However, we still have to deal with it, like it or not, and the only way to do that is to start planning and preparing.

    My favorite quote on collapse/preparation/personal survival is, as I've cited on the blog earlier, from the late Mel Tappan. One of his correspondents wrote and said "I would rather die than live in a world like that (post-collapse)." Mr. Tappan's response was "I'd rather not die in a world like that."

    So, doom and gloom is there to get us motivated, but it's up to us to listen to the warnings, to be ants and not grasshoppers, and take the steps we need to take.

    I'm curious about the low-energy cooking -- do you have some good websites or resources handy?


  3. I think that I'm in living what's happening with our economy. I've been unemployed 2 years this month....

    This is after 20 years of professional service with the same private sector employer.
    20 years of good to excellent annual reviews.
    20 years of increasing responsibility.
    Yes, 20 years of increasing pay.
    20 years of living good.

    Here's the truth: Nobody wants to hire a 51 year old at anything even approaching my old compensation level. NOBODY. Hell, I can't even get a job offer for 1/2 of my old salary. 1/2

    Now that's it's been 2 years, potential employers view me as "damaged goods", that somethings wrong with... me. That I didn't try hard enough to find a job, etc...

    Ok. that's my reality. Now what do I do?
    - get a job at the local gas station/mini-mart for $8.00 / hour?


    What WILL you do when it happens to you?

    Think it can't or won't happen to you? Think again brother!
    You think that you're too valuable to your employer...
    that you work too hard...
    that you have all the knowledge, skills and abilities (and then some!) to do your job function, and others!
    that you've done all that's ever been asked, working nights, evenings, week-ends, holidays, with never a complaint..
    100% (hell, 120%) dedication...

    I can tell you that all the above.... means nothing. NOTHING!
    Think you can't be replaced? Think Again!
    Think your job can't disappear? Think Again!

    Think all of this is the ramblings of a bitter, disaffected, economic looser who can't "buck up" and do what he needs to do ("what ever it takes!") to make it financially in this world? Think Again!


  4. It's heartbreaking to read stories like yours, especially remembering my own father's despair when he was laid off many years ago, with much the same things to say about his situation. There have been too many people such as yourself for anyone to ever claim that those who have been out of work for years are nothing but lazy failures and people who say things like that are fooling themselves so they don't have to imagine the same reality.

    We have lived in a bubble economy -- and a bubble of lies, to be honest -- for a long time but now see that it's coming undone. There is no longer a safe field or job, and even the things like nursing and teaching, once considered recession-proof are now seen to be as vulnerable as anything else.

    I think the thing we all need to do is to make sure that we have some sort of backup plan if we do lose our jobs and can't find work again. I guess it's probably reasonable to say that if, at some points, we're all running on our backup plan, the lights are out and not coming back on, but at least it might be enough to where we can keep our heads above water.

    Your words are sobering and correct and we all should remember them each time we deposit a paycheck or even walk in the day of work each day.

  5. I am positive overall because history has ignored half of it's world population. Women and mothers are gaining economic influence in droves. This can change the dynamic in my view. We cannot forsee a future like this when either our past has been erased or it is the first time in human history a bonafide balance was created on the planet. I know, John. I'm an idealist but I didn't give birth to a son and continue to protect him so that I can ready him for Armaggedon.

    But I like your site because it is important as a back up plan to consider what you talk about. Too many American's are having Anonymous' experience. Our economy is not built to thrive on happy, fulfilled humans so it crushes itself. The question is not only of survival but how do we maintain an economy when humans are satiated?

    As you point out, I find it interesting that we will ultimately need to share resources for survival. This goes against our over-idealized and flawed economic Captialist model, which I know is not really Capitalistic (or Socialistic) at all.

  6. Mahalo nui loa (usually translated from Hawaiian as rather pedestrian 'thank you very much', but it is really much more beautiful than that. A far more accurate translation would be 'great thanks, everlasting') for this site. I have only read two entries so far, and I am happy to find words that express so perfectly what we are doing.

    Three years ago, my husband and I left a 20 year old architectural design firm that grossed us $130k or so per year. We started a farm. But not just any farm. We utilize aquaponics, a recirculating system that uses ~1% of the water, 70% less energy inputs (and none of it is petrochemical), 90% less human labor, and it twice as much food in half the time, and at about four times the plant density.

    I thought it sounded far too good to be true, but after three and a half year, I am incredibly honored to be teaching as many people as we can reach about this food production system. Unlike any other trainers in this small but rapidly growing field, we are actual commercial producers (we supply an organic lettuce mix to our local Costco, 400-600 pounds per week, grown in an area about the size of a three-bedroom house), as well as being completely open source.

    Please check out out website,, and message me through the site, if you find what we're doing in alignment with your vision here.

    Aloha nui,


  7. My "recreation" is boating. We own a small (18 ft, 1200 pounds), open wooden daysailor. Reading my log, we used it 5 days last year for "Pleasure". I used it 37 days for crabbing. This year we are building a smaller (13 ft, 125 pound) wooden peapod more suitable for crabbing and fishing. Both are powered by sail and oars, no engines. And I'm in a boatbuilding school (Thanks to the GI bill and Pell Grants).

    I too have not had what we call "outside work" in over a year and I am 53. I normally work as a carpenter. But, I retired from the Coast Guard after a 20 year career as an enlisted man. It's not a big pension, we live well below the poverty line, but it's regular. And we saved while I was on Active Duty and paid cash for our land. We're on the "pay as you go, learn as you earn" plan. So we have no mortgage, and don't need much. We grow most of our own produce and eggs. We've started two bee hives. We still buy meat, oils/fats, dairy products, grains and sugars.

    As Dmitry Orlov said, "There will be no jobs, but plenty of work." Whether I find a job as a boatbuilder or not, after school, I'll have plenty of work.

    Marrowstone Island
    Washington State

  8. theultimateoutcast,

    I've thought a lot about the question of what would constitute a workable equilibrium in society. In theory, the existence of machines should have meant that we were able to able to start decoupling human beings from the notion of labor as a means to survival, but it seems like we've gone the opposite direction, by devaluing human labor (in an economic sense) when it does occur. While it does sound cliched, I think the real culprit is probably just human greed. Instead of using technology to alleviate the scarcities humanity has faced in the past, it's really been used to promote artificial scarcity, through the advancement of materialism (in all senses) as the most socially acceptable, overriding modern philosophy. Anyone who would dare say "Why are we working so hard to buy trinkets? Why don't we maybe work half as much, spend more time with our friends and family?" is going to be considered (at least secretly) a crackpot, so strongly has the materialist meme permeated our thinking. I think, itself, the answer is that if we reach a point where humans are satisfied with what they have, then the question of maintaining an economy may be moot.

    Whether or not we go down the road of collapse is still probably an open question. No one wants to really contemplate that happening, especially when they think of their children. Clearly, there is going to be a major pothole down the road for America (and the world) when the debt can no longer be serviced, something that does seem unavoidable. How we emerge on the other side of that is going to depend largely if we change how we view ourselves and the broader world around us. Clearly, the leading philosophies of the last century have not done us a great service in showing a workable way forward.


  9. Glenn,

    I have always appreciated that quote. To me, a "job" is one of the "holy icons" which has become an integral part of our Puritan-Prussian worldview. It's not often people stop to think that a "job" is a means to an end, which can be achieved in other ways.

    It sounds like you're in a very good position to deal with the inevitable changes that seem to be coming our way. It's not in the public consciousness much these days, but the oceans and waterways have long been a good means of making a living, and will likely return in importance as land-based agriculture and distribution becomes more difficult.

    I'm going to guess that you've read at least one issue of "Wooden Boat" magazine?


  10. WoodenBoat Magazine? I think I've only been subscribing since the late '70's.


  11. Glenn,

    I've often considering sending off for their back issue archive on CD. I think I first picked it up in the mid-90s when I had the yearning to build a boat. I'll probably get around to finally doing that one of these days, unless I need to lumber for building a catapult to fight off zombies. ;)