Dimitry Orlov’s worst-case scenario

I have long seen the parallels between the economic stagnation of the United States and the plight of the Soviet Union in the Brezhnev era – the failure of industries to compete, the crumbling infrastructure, huge trade deficits, huge foreign debt merely to prop up the material standard of living, the decline of the standard of living despite this, and the projection of military power worldwide as a denial of decline.

But I never until recently thought there is a possibility that the United States would completely collapse as the Soviet Union did.  Even at the depths of the Great Depression or the worst of our Civil War, the United States held together as a society.

Dimitry Orlov makes me to think otherwise.  Like James Howard Kunstler, he points out the interlocking and reinforcing nature of our problems.  The peaking of the world oil supply, the change in global climate and other ecological problems are serious, but not beyond the power of human beings to deal with.  But in the United States, such problems are combined with commitment to open-ended quagmire wars, an economy running on debt rather than production, and a gridlocked government less and less able to perform routine functions, much less cope with crisis.

Orlov says that many of the strengths of the United States will become weaknesses and vice versa, as happened with the old Soviet Union.  One of the things the United States offered its citizens is the possibility of home ownership.  In contrast, the typical Russian family consists of three generations crammed together in one apartment.  But when affordable gasoline ceased to be available, this Russian family was in a better position to survive than the scattered American family will be, with its members stranded in suburbs hundreds of miles apart.

There have been times in the past when the U.S. government was as corrupt and ineffective as it is now, and eventually progressive and populist reformers emerged to fix things.  But in those eras, the United States was growing in wealth and strength.  Reform was a matter of making adjustments so that all Americans benefited from the nation’s forward progress.  Today’s situation is different.  We are in a situation in which the country’s future survival is as much at risk as in World War Two or the Civil War, but unlike in those eras, the peril is not obvious.

Dimitry Orlov says there will come a time fairly soon (he wisely doesn’t specify a date) when government ceases to function, financial assets become worthless and everyone is on their own.  Here is what he advises to prepare for that time:

1.  Cultivate your network of friends, keeping in mind that your poor and marginal friends are more likely to have necessary survival skills than your affluent and influential friends.

2.  Learn to do as much for yourself as possible, particularly gardening.  Live simply.  Voluntary simplicity now is better than involuntary poverty later on.

3.  Acquire and learn to use tools, such as a sewing machine, that would enable you to perform useful services your neighbors would barter for.

There aren’t bad things to do even if things don’t get as bad as he predicts.

I’m not So quick to give up on the United States as Orlov is.  Despite the manifest failures of the Obama administration, I don’t think it is too late to turn things around.  But one reason I’m reluctant to accept Orlov’s prediction is that I would not survive in such a world.  I not only depend on Social Security, a corporation pension and investments in mutual funds for my income; my continued existence depends on high-tech medicine, which would not be likely to survive a societal collapse.

I hope the prophecies of Orlov, James Howard Kunstler and their ilk are heeded and thereby, like Jonah’s in the Bible, do not come true.

Click on Club Orlov for Dimitri Orlov’s web log.

Click on Closing the Collapse Gap for text of a slide-show presentation Orlov which the Post Carbon Institute’s Energy Bulletin published in 2006.  I came across a link to the presentation several weeks ago.  This was what got me interested in Orlov’s ideas.  I include this presentation on my links menu.

Click on Definancialization. deglobalization, relocalization for the text of a slide-show presentation Orlov gave in 2009 to the New Emergency Conference in Dublin.

Click on Social Collapse Best Practices for the video and transcript of a 2009 talk by Dimitri Orlov to the Long Now Foundation.

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One Response to “Dimitry Orlov’s worst-case scenario”

  1. Will the American Cookie Crumble? | The Deliberate Observer Says:

    […] Dimitry Orlov’s worst-case scenario (via Phil Ebersole’s Blog): I have long seen the parallels between the economic stagnation of the United States and the plight of the Soviet Union in the Brezhnev era – the failure of industries to compete, the crumbling infrastructure, huge trade deficits, huge foreign debt merely to prop up the material standard of living, the decline of the standard of living despite this, and the projection of military power worldwide … Read More […]

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