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What Does America Need To Do To Survive? - Poem by Lonnie Hicks
The first area to look into is those pillars of American success I identified above: Cheap Labor, Cheap Energy, Cheap Food and a country filled with natural resources.
To this list I will now add, a decent birth rate or immigrant flow, small town and technical green enclave investment, income distribution reform, land distribution reforms, banking and financial reforms and a re-thinking of the purposes of an economy.
Cheap labor built this country, from the Chinese coming to lay the track for the railroads, to the Africans working the cotton in the South, to the immigrants from Europe who cleared the land in the west, who worked the factories, fought the wars and made America what it is today. Needless to say the labor scene is not the same today. Cheap labor has been outsourced to other countries.
The American middle class has not only been abandoned but 40% of American savings were taken from them and their homes, their major asset, are now selling for half the purchase price to those very same interests which took the savings and the land.
We are heading for a two class system, therefore, the rich and the poor. Certainly that is the pattern becoming evident in many of our cities. In addition, there is the lack of labor, cheap or otherwise, which is the demographic issue. Americans are not having children, nor are Europeans and the demographics are becoming clear: By 2050, some demographic studies show, the reproducing populations of Russia, Britain, France and Italy will, in essence, cease to exist and the traditional populations will be replaced by immigrants from other countries. The same trends are evident in the United States as well. Latin American birth rates outstrip those of Americans and demography become destiny, in a flice.
So, as we age in this country, we see a younger population replacing an older one, of a very different stripe. Our children will learn more Spanish in the short-run but English will have resurgence in the next generation. What is to be done in this context is now our challenge.
The first issue in the short run is the economy. The country will, and already has, in certain communities become a two-economy society. Why should I, nor can I, compete for basic living necessities with individuals earning 2-3 times more than I do?
A two-economy solution, whether created or defacto-realized seems inevitable. The rich will likely not be allowed to shop in the second economy where the price of necessities can be artificially raised in a so-called 'free market.' This solution creates a low-cost economy of necessities for those who provide the labor. This makes sense and many do this to survive anyway today. Thrift shops, discount stores, Walmarts all attest to the fact that the middle class cannot afford middle class and upper middle class prices.
The second pillar of revamping the labor force (the one above creates an economy which works for them) is to have that labor force become more self-sufficient and not be susceptible to being wiped out by Wall Street machinations and global trends in far away countries. This means the re-claiming of productive land and small towns where they can be supportive of a laboring population. Bartering, co-ops, low living costs, plus a land reform policy can make the country side more productive and sustainable especially in the context of greening these small towns to produce energy for re-sale to the grid.
Believe it or not Detroit is trying this approach. Tear the detoriated buildings down, down-size the city, allow for population loss, put in self-sufficient gardening and farming plots, bring in technological enclaves. This is an admission that the city model does not work, at least in Detroit.
Now you have idle workers in small towns all over the country. We can make those small towns productive with massive investments. How you say is that possible? More tomorrow.
February 18,2010 - Survival Chapter Three
As I have stated elsewhere our children, will not be able to afford the suburban home of the past.
In the cities they will be forced and are, already, living three to five a house or apartment. High unemployment will remain with us and a revamping of the economy from a service emphasis to a new high-tech, green emphasis will take time. What to do. Here are a few modest proposals about what to do with the labor force, idle out there and hurting.
1-Create a massive internal peace corp. Put people to work re-vamping small towns for their change-over to a more self-sustaining model. This includes local organic food stuffs, grown and consumed. Free up land for this purpose. People will grow gardens. Put money into green training and irrigation projects. Bring people languishing unproductively in the cities back into these very same small towns. Bring back and support local and regional banks and co-ops of various kinds, crops, loans, machinery, techno co-ops can work if local.
Remember what happens when we allow Wall Street to become our bankers? . Take those same highly educated city grads, currently living five to an apartment, and give them money to go back home to their own small towns, or others to help set up the infrastructure need to fuel this internal peace corp re-generation of America. Move people out of the cities with incentives to go back to the small town or the medium sized town. We have technology now where we don't need to congregate in cities to be productive, that was an industrial model where you needed the labor force close and available near ports and transportation hubs. We don't need this so much in this post industrial era. Has this model been tried? Sure. Dependent wage-earners in the city are an economic failure. We should admit it and go local and regional.
The poor won't be poor if they are given the means to access the basics of life. The middle class can revert to the community help model that is still in place in many small towns, and has been for centuries. After all, most of the world was a small town model until populations were forced into the cities to serve the needs of robber barons.
Now the second aspect of reform is to take the technological enclaves I have described and integrate them into what I have described above. I have noted that much of the information revolution is actually driven by a few high skilled enclaves around the world and by relatively few people. They are Silicon valley-like enclaves in California, China, Singapore, France, Germany, Hong-Kong etc. These enclaves are small towns where participants know one another and exchange ideas. This is the second model of small town regeneration. These type two small towns are to be in contact with type one small towns and can become training cadres for small town re-generation. How? Give them tax breaks to do so and guess what they will have at their disposal; cheap labor from the sources we identified above. That is what we need to do in the short run, town by town.
So we have a new source of cheap labor, idle now but can become productive again. Empty the cities, get people out of what are inefficient enclaves and get them to places where the population can begin to benefit itself not a few hundred thousand rich souls who control city life.
Ah, not possible you say? The choice here is stark: Either we organize this new re-generation by planful means or it will occur in an unplanned way, which is to say people abandoning the cities and invading the country side looking for the means to survive. Be mindful here that any disaster of any meaningful proportions will initiate this process anyway and we will not have planned for it
A last stark fact: The average grocer has three days worth of food on the shelves. People will invade the country side looking for food and this will be the plan I just discussed being initiated the hard way. And that is ugly.
The collapse of centralized authority, unplanned, happened with the collapse of the Roman Empire, initiating the Dark Ages, happened, in fact, in the bible as I have argued above, and happened with the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. It happened with Katrina. Any breakdown from natural or man-made sources will create the pattern I describe above.
February 22,2010 'What Does America Need To Survive? ' Chapter 4
Have there been other examples of civilizations abandoning the city as unworkable; or central authority collasping, of abandoning empire as unworkable? The Mayans abandoned pyramid building, the Greeks, the Babylonians, the French, the British, the Romans, countless examples. Most large scale centralized authority systems fall down. They are not generally pulled down. The most recent example is that of the Russians who abandoned their empire as unworkable.
It is part of a normal pattern.
So now to get to the detail. Include the army in the small town regeneration project, along with the young and the college-educated. Many of them have ties to these small towns and it would be a home coming. Have the technological enclaves close by with small towns providing labor in exchange for training. Isn't that what the Army does anyway? Focus efforts in regeneration on greening and self-sufficiency. These would be key. This would mean small truck farms, wind, solar and the techno-enclave would be in proximity. And, ultimately, able to produce energy for the gird.
Of course, there will be a fight over the land. Currently developers, banks, railroads, utilities and the US government own most of the land in the country. There would have to be a new land use policy. Survival is at stake. But the fight could be won because small states dominate in the US Senate and a deal could be struck because their states would benefit from such a plan.
Think of it. Most of the wasted resources in this country are utilized keeping the cities afloat. They are not economic, crime ridden, have no real products they produce, have teeming unemployment looming and bound to get worse and net resource wasters. They demand massive investments in transportation, food, energy and give little back in terms of long-term sustainability. Young people, the idle, the technologically advanced are better utilized on the country-side landscape. Just a thought.
So cheap labor is possible to put back into the American equation. As I am fond of saying, this will happen well and planned or ill-planned and ugly.
February 26,2010 'Survive'
The next item in tandem is cheap energy. Above we have mentioned wind and solar. We add to the list battery power, and nuclear power. There are ideas around the idea of clean coal and cheap oil, but we are better off looking at fuel substitutes that include vegetable oils and other grain based fuels. At the very least stockpiles ought to be created for the emergencies which will surely come in the future. But will all this be enough, timely and efficient in the face of climate change, aging populations, declining incomes, looming depression, and political paralysis? Such timing is critical, the answer is unknown. However, we have no choice in the energy field; we must act as if we will succeed. The overall goal is clear; create a society which city and country-side produce net energy give-backs to the grid.
Friends of mine stated part of the problem succinctly, “Why re-build an outmoded infrastructure; build the new one directly.'
On the energy level the task is a delicate one: We have to build the boat we are sailing to Europe on while sailing to Europe. The reason that this is even to be looked at is that you can do this if you build the boat as a series of rafts strung together. Those rafts are small towns. Seen this way, it is possible to accomplish the task. Of course there is not enough money in the world to re-build the old infrastructure, but a green infra-structure is possible under scenarios I outline below. That structure is cheaper in the long run, more competitive, locally controlled and has cheaper labor costs, as I have outlined above.
The next issue is cheap food. America has long been the bread basket of the world but that small-farmer model of production has long been replaced by big agriculture which now means genetic farming where corn itself has reduced strains available and many of them owned, repeat, owned by the Monsanto's of the world. It is illegal to grow the corn without their permission. This, of course, changes the cheap food equation. If grain seed and indeed water, and the very air can become private property then the house of cards will collapse. Clearly this system is not sustainable and is not viable as a public good.
Re-generation will have to be accompanied by a re-thinking of who owns food grains. Who owns water, land, air? It is instructive to even have to discuss these issues this way. What hath progress wrought?
How can food be re-democratized? It will have to be. Hungry people will find a way to feed their families and Monsanto and their patents will have to stand aside and let people grow what ever they want.
Now a potential catalyst in all of this are returning veterans from our two wars. (War is a form of employment which is why it so easily becomes popular.)
These folks, having made sacrifices for the country will come home, assuming the wars end, will need jobs and there are none. They will need medical care, in a medical system which is broken. They will need re-training, in a country which is cutting college budgets. Something similar happened after World War one and those vets marched on Washington. It can happen again. These might when they and their families find they cannot make a living once back home. They are good candidates for re-generation projects where living costs will be lower and green re-training possible.
But the potential volatility of that issue remains. The two economy solution will become more apparent with these veterans back home. After all we have an example of this with the military itself where the internal military economy runs on it own terms not those of the general American economy.
So what then is the next issue to be solved? We need to look at small town economic models and their regional counterparts. Tomorrow.
February 27,2010 'Survive'
The economic picture is glum, but things will sort themselves out well or badly. Let's concentrate on well. The first item many of you have mentioned is the issue of where will the money come from to institute many of the ideas I have outlined above. Bob mentioned the national debt, two wars, and a trillion dollar deficit. All true. The national debt is 12.4 trillion dollars and soon the interest payments against that debt will be the second largest item in the national budget.
What will happen? What can happen? Can we or our children pay this debt? No, not right now.
What will likely happen is either default or re-structuring. We owe the money to the Chinese and the Japanese mostly and we will likely simply restructure with both and create new lower payments. They might, and likely will agree, to the extent they can see their exports increase to us in our re-generation efforts here. They could get some debt funds paid back in that way, along with currency re-valuation in the Chinese example. And guess who will be in China, utilizing that cheap labor-US companies who can produce for the US market utilizing this foreign labor and also help create that green market back home as well. This has synergy. Sloppy synergy but yes synergy. Inevitable? No. But a logical path.
The two wars cost about 120 billion a year and have to be wound down slowly so as to not exacerbate all those towns dependent upon military contracts in the United States and all those countries dependent upon US military bases abroad. We are a war-dependent economy seeking to become a peace economy that will take time, say 20 years.
So the first step in economic re-generation will be the global changes described above from the perspective of the United States. We can't pay. Besides we need the money for the internal changes above or we pay in internal disruptions from economic chaos if we don't act. Think 20 rolling Katrina's due to water shortages in one case, food shortages in another case, rising inflation which make the dollar worth a lot less, transportation breakdowns, terrorist attacks etc.
We are a fragile over-technologized society, and so interdependent that five airplanes can bring our economy to its knees. This is not good.
Now the small town answer here is therefore a good idea not only for economic reasons but for strict military reasons as well. Ninety-five percent of the people living on one percent of the land is a bad idea militarily. Disbursement is a better idea.
Now the mix we are talking about here is one of small-town, regional and yes some cities where cities make sense. But the basis of the American future has to be local, upgraded with technology, not massed populations in vulnerable cities. Re-generation is re-building America from the bottom up and abandoning top-down systems.
So how much time will this all take and what are the barriers?
March 1,2010 'Survival'
A wise sage once said 'What to do is easy, but the first step of what to do is the problem.' The same is true here. The answer to the question of how long we have to accomplish certain critical first steps is a function of how long will the first steps take. And what are those first steps? Here we go:
The country has to be put on a disaster footing, whether that disaster is any of the calamities I have described above or some one not yet conceived. Here is what I think we have to do, over what time line, with what human power sources and at what cost:
1-Just as we have voting booths and places in every community in the United States we must do the same for the regeneration effort. We will need in an emergency, power, medical, housing food, water, and energy and ways to move people efficiently. We partially have this in place with F.E.M.A but I would not bet my life on their help, would you?
The first scenario is the three to-five day survival period. In a disaster we want people to be self-sufficient and be able to survive for at least three-to five days after an event or in general:
-That is every home must have five days of food, non-perishable (remember, we assume no power will be available)
-Each home must have or access to five days of clean water
-Each home must have access to an emergency medical kit
-Each home must have a shortwave radio kit or access to same
-Each home must have a fuel generation kit, assuming gasoline supplies will quickly become depleted
-Each home must have access to the ability to produce heat or fire
-Each home must have a tent for temporary shelter if necessary.
-Each home must have seed grains for a vegetable garden (yes, let's think ahead)
-Each home must have a 12 volt battery, an auto battery will do and, add two bicycles, and a crowbar and rope.
-Each block must have a disaster warden, someone who would get training in the above items and their use; a paid position.
Right now some homes have these items, most don't. Some communities have their processes in place, some don't.
Shopping list item one for the state and federal government: Have our re-generation work force, (remember these folks?) create 'Survival Support Kits' on every block in America. Kit production will provide jobs; make survivability a real option for Americans not only for natural disasters but other kinds of slow degeneration from economic collapse as well.
These kits will be on every block, or within walking distance and supplement those home supplies I have described above. Why all this effort? The worse thing you can have is millions of people in the cities on the move after five days looking for food or trying to escape the chaos of the cities.
There are massive issues with this kind of movement. You want folks to hunker down in place and survive for at least five days to ten days until state or federal efforts can be mounted.
Hunkering down also makes security for these communities easier, rather than dealing with a scattered population on the move.
The details of how you get fuel without gasoline I will spare you but survivalists know them well.
How much will this effort cost? Unknown, but my guess is each kit and its mobile container will cost in materials about 750 dollars. Labor costs would be about 500 per kit, transportation, training and placement and after support: about 2,500 dollars per kit for the first year. Let's add contingency costs and the kit total is 5,000 per unit. How many units? Let's say a million units installed in each of five years: 25 billion.
Of course there are other costs as well. All we have here is survival days one through five. But what about after the five to ten day period I have postulated. More on that tomorrow.
March 2,2010 'Survival'
All of the above effort gets us five to ten days of sufficing, mostly in the city. Beyond the ten-day mark there is a lot more to do. Moreover, what I have described above is mostly related to the cities. The country side effort is presumed to be in place from the other efforts described above and will have similar outlines as the city effort except that the Army, state and federal forces will lead that effort.
After ten days cities will be out of food and masses of individuals will head toward the country-side to escape what will be an increasingly chaotic and dangerous city environment; people use guns to get what they need, looting, dogs running in packs, sanitation issues erupt right away. Terrible..
These patterns of behavior are not uncommon; we see them in every prolonged disaster or emergency.
Most of these ideas work in fire, earthquake, terrorist action, drought, power failure, water issues etc. They are not great for nuclear war. There all bets are off.
Now in the country side you have to have in place before the above disasters or slowly degenerating circumstances (the latter is more likely) reception centers to receive the city dwellers. Housing, kits, medical attention, sustainability planning all will have to be done before hand. The kits I speak of have to be along major exit routes and highways out of the urban areas and final destination points have to be marked out before hand to handle millions of people.
Food stuffs, water purification, temporary governmental functioning, security issues, communication, transportation and mobility- all issues that this country has not acted upon and may have to. A slow moving degeneration of our financial systems in the easiest to deal with. But think back to October 1929. The collapse of the stock market put millions on the road looking for food and work. Then most people had country cousins who grew food. Today this is not the case today. This can happen again and we have done nothing to anticipate or prepare.
What will a truly national or even regional effort look like? We build that infrastructure block by block, city by city, region by region focusing our effort based on what areas, cities or regions have the best sustainability components and spend money in those areas which do not. The have's are put to work creating sustainability for the have-nots.
But details and costs loom here. How can this be done in the next twenty years-an arbitrary time period, but one I think is the last window we have to have gotten much of this in place.
We create hubs, local and regional until a national network is in place. The jobs it will create will help. The products, all aligned with sustainability and green goals give the country a future in the global economy, and we come out if it stronger militarily and mentally.
But as always the question is what comes first, who does it, how much will it cost and how effective will this effort be?
March 3,2010 'Survival'
The mounting of a national effort encompassing a local, regional and country-wide effort will take twenty years. It will involve a simultaneous re-vamping of the American economy and political structure such that local self-sufficiency to the maximum degree possible is built into the new system. Our issues with infra-structure, energy, power, food etc are all based upon the assumption that the present system will be in place when clearly the present system needs to be totally re-conceptualized. The maxim is that with every complex system at some point there simply isn't enough brain power at the top to manage systems when they reach a certain size, no matter how much technology we throw at it.
The dream that we could automate our way to a well run system is a dream. It happens over and over again with empires, cities and even small regions. People run systems best who are close to the production of its basic outlines.
What if I were President? What would I do? Well the American people, and others in other countries, do not really believe that life can change from what it currently is. We are paralyzed into complacency, feel powerless to change anything and not sure if we really want to see much change. As one of my students said, 'Will I still be able to still play piano? '
Now the first thing I would do is to shake up the situation with new Federal law that would place in each American home the basic needs I have outlined above for the first line of defense in the event of an emergency in American cities. Each home or block would receive one of the kits I describe at a cost of five hundred per kit.
This is the 'wake-up call' approach.Things have to be shaken up. Kick the mule to get his attention. This is a signal that we as Americans are vulnerable to various emergencies and must make preparations. I would bill it as the first steps toward local control and de-centralization, away from centralized banks and financial systems to more local ones, to more local political and social control, to a more self-sufficient country; re-building America from the bottom up and creating new self-sufficiency green and smart jobs. This is true re-organization and cheaper by far than the current centralized system which mostly benefit, life-time politicians, lobbyists and the rich.
That is America's future if America is going to survive and compete in the global economy of the future. If this is not done the current situation where the top five percent of the population has control over more wealth that the bottom ninety-five percent will create social unrest of enormous proportions and a re-alignment will occur through the messy method and social unrest, rather than through the ways I am proposing here. Let's hope we all come to our senses.
Update June 15,2010
An interesting question here is how do the re-generation principles above match up with an actual emergency, such as the BP oil spill? The above was written before the spill but it provides an example of what is happening and how, if a re-generation plan had been in place, things would be different.
First we have a spill, the largest in American history which will contaminate over 1/3 of the Gulf of Mexico, is an environmental disaster, will affect the livelihood of thousands along the coast and inland as well, among some some the poorest states in the Union. Unemployment, damaged tourism, and decay will be with the regions for years.
And to boot we are treated to a scene where politicians parade across our tv screens promising relief but delivering none, in it mainly to get their faces on TV and hoping thereby to get re-elected, no FEMA springs into action, and payments have to come from BP and meantime how are people going to feed themselves, and make boat and house payments? A mess.
Now under re-generation, first of all, BP would be required to click a computer screen and transfer a few billion dollars directly to local banks who where the individuals involved could draw upon. This would take a few minutes. Right now they are sending checks after a claims process.
But we have no local banks. Besides the politicians want credit for relief because that means votes for them. Too quick relief and they become irrelevant.
Local banking structures who have the house note and the boat note could and would be in place under regeneration. There is no subsitute for a local person who knows each individual in the community and their needs. If BP didn't transfer the money then the Federal Reserve or the Federal government should or under re-generation would be required to.. It is a down payment on ultimate claims but people in an emergency need money now, not later. Have I mentioned local co-ops. They are even better than local banks but many don't have the electronic transfer techology to handle some tranactions and don't hold the mortgages and boat notes. Credit unions are also good choices, but same problem. We have to build these under re-generation.
Second, given what is a slow moving disaster a livelihood for millions has now been destroyed. Where will they find work? Many, as was the case with Katrina will abandon the old jobs and livelihood and we will see decay, boarded up business and migration. Under re-generation a self-sufficient plan would be in place to have those unemployed be employed locally in techno and small town enclaves and available for disaster relief. There would have been a plan B. There is no plan B now in place in the Gulf and there was no plan B; and there is no plan B even being planned for the Hurricane season upcoming.
Hurricane season. Boy is there a need for plan B. When the winds arrive what hopes for a return to normalcy might be dashed and millions will be in need or at least on the move.
Are we preparing? Nope. The states say we have no money. The Fed says BP is going to pay, BP is going to say hey, the people responsible for rig safety are registered in the Marshall Islands and can't be touched. A court battle will take years and people will be long discouraged or gone and nobody will in the end will take responsibility.
The moral of this tale is clear: Communities have to plan for self-sufficiency against man-made and natural disasters. Plan for food, energy, and the labor force to rebuild or sustain what is in place. The large enties, the government, BP etc can't and don't have an interest in helping. It is not profitable for the oil company to give away too much money, and is useful to the politicians only in as much as they can get votes out of it for the next election. After that they move on to the next photo op.
We have to think that the self-sufficient frontier societies of 150 years ago have to be wedded to the techo innovations of today to keep this country going and for it to thrive. Be sure to write your congress person.
Now that BP has come up with 20 billion the first interesting point is that it could not deliver the funds directly or quickly to the people who need it. No, they gave the money to the US government. Be prepared for a long wait while the state and local politicians hop a plane to washington to see if they can get their hands on that money and control of it's distribution so as to dole it out to friends, supporters who can help them get re-elected while the people in the gulf deplete their life savings, go into debt, search for other work, prepare for cleanup which might last years, contemplate that 1/3 of the gulf being poisioned, while the marshlands affected by the spill die and make the land areas more vunerable to hurricanes just months away.
Things ain't going so swell.
So what to do?
First get the money out of the US hands to local banks and /or co-ops formed by the communities themselves, composed of the members of that community. (A pipe dream I know) But some people have formed communities and they ought to be encouraged.
Secondly, a regional disaster recovery plan ought to be instituted following the steps I have outlined above. (Has anyone heard from FEMA lately?)
We ought to be hiring the unemployed and the skilled to go down to institute the plan on a regional basis. First we need to implement the short term emergency plan I outlined about while simultaneouly instituting the long term plans I identified.Note here the the ability of residents in the area to earn a livelihood from the Gulf may be affected for many years. A new plan for the small towns in the area has to be created So what is to be the new self-sustaining model for the area? Obviously the last plan of depending upon the sea and tourism didn't work so well.
I like the idea of desalination of the sea, solar power and water power from the Gulf. Make the hurricanes pay from them selves by harnassing the wind to produce electricity. Just a thought. Here would be cheap energy, cheap labor and we could introduce elements of cheap food.
Will this happen? Only God knows, but I would not take odds on it.
Comments about What Does America Need To Do To Survive? by Lonnie Hicks
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