James Howard Kunstler: The World's Greatest Misallocation Of Resources

James Howard Kunstler returns to the podcast this week, observing that despite the baton being handed to a new American president, the massive predicaments we face as a society remain the same. And it seems the incoming administration is just as in denial of them as the old.

Kunstler adds fresh critique to his now decades-old warning that we are sleepwalking our way deep into the Long Emergency. The longer we delude ourselves and waste our energies in pursuit of reviving the failed "endless growth" model, the farther our journey back to a sustainable way of living will be when our current system collapses:

I don’t think there is any sense that they really know where we’re headed, what our destination is, and what the imperatives are and what the future is actually telling us that we need to do. Don’t forget that the so-called psychology of previous investment is a very powerful force in American life and it’s prompting us to do everything we can to maintain the investments we’ve already made. Those investments are the ones I have already mentioned: the freeways, the suburban housing developments, the strip malls. 

A lot of the hope pinned on Trump is based on the idea that he’s assembling this team of mega-competent capitalist movers and shakers who know how to make deals -- the Wilbur Rosses and Rex Tillersons of the world -- and that they are going to conjure up a tremendous surge of economic activity that will be majorly fruitful going forward in the future and produce a tremendous amount of new wealth. Of course the stock market has been pricing that in. But if you really drill down and look what’s going on there, especially the infrastructure plans, the idea that we’re going to revive American manufacturing -- and especially the idea that we’re going to rebuild the happy motoring infrastructure so that we can have 50 more years of that -- that, it seems to me, would amount to once again repeating the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

The last thing that America needs to do is to desperately try to maintain its suburban matrix. There are many other things we can do and ought to do, including reviving main street communities. One of the things we have to think about is reviving the small towns and small cities in American because those are the places of the greatest disinvestment over the last 30 years and we’re going to need them very badly as the global economy withers. It’s not going to disappear; there’s still going to be trade between nations, I believe, outside of some kind of major set of kinetic war conflicts, but we’re going to see the economy of North America turn inward and become more focused on what we can do here. One of the things that that suggests is that we’re going to have to do more with some of the assets and virtues that we have, mainly our inland waterway system because that’s going to also have to take the place of the trucking industry, which is going to be failing over the next 20 years.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Jim Kunstler (51m:56s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/james-howard-kunstler-the-worlds-greatest-misallocation-of-resources/

So, I am a fan of Mr. Kunstler. Refreshing listening to him.
One of the reasons that we will have problems with our economy is the oil issue. We are heading down past EROEI of 10:1 for oil and gas combined. It’s called ‘net energy’, after everyone else gets paid, uses energy, before we get the remainder useful energy, for running our economy and transporting things.
I thought these articles were convincing:
http://www.thehillsgroup.org/ and also: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-08-02/some-reflections-on-the-twi…
As for why seemingly intelligent people live in such a well insulated bubble is the incessant amount of propaganda from the MSM and the Psyops from our own intelligence services, to enable the status quo, to prevent change, to keep the class structures and the wealth that goes along with that. I believe that it’s very difficult to break out of ones belief system (BS) to see the reality of our situation. And it does not happen overnight. I think like Mr Kunstler suggested that it will take getting whacked with a 2 by 4 a couple of times. Until cognitive dissonance happens.
I believe the Democratic and Republican party’s are beyond reform. We will need to look elsewhere for a vehicle for change. The local movements and small towns, local currencies, food localization, sail power.

In Easter's fields the grasses blowBetween the statues, row on row,that mark our place; and in the skyno larks, that bravely sang, flyScarce heard amid the cars below We are the Dead. long days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Easter’s fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw no burning torch; that pollute the sky. If ye break faith with us who died We shall not sleep, though grasses grow In Easter’s fields.
(my apologies to John McCrae and my grandkids) Easter Island

I’ve been reading the weekly blog for years.Enjoyed the “World Made by Hand” series of fiction.
I’d like to 2nd Chris’ recommendation that all would read “The Long Emergency.”
https://www.amazon.com/Long-Emergency-Converging-Catastrophes-Twenty-First/dp/0802142494/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485191778&sr=8-1&keywords=the+long+emergency

JHK on the Trump longevity prospects and the magnitude of the forces arrayed against him.
He is Risen… But for How Long?

If the first forty-eight hours are any measure of the alleged Trumptopia-to-come, the leading man in this national melodrama appears to be meshuga [Yiddish for crazy]. A more charitable view might be that his behavior does not comport with the job description: president. If he keeps it up, I stick to my call that we will see him removed by extraordinary action within a few months. It might be a lawful continuity-of-government procedure according to the 25th Amendment — various high officials declaring him “incapacited” — or it might be a straight-up old school coup d’état (“You’re fired”). ... His [inauguration] speech to the multitudes was not exactly what had once passed for presidential oratory. It was not an “address.” It was blunt, direct, unadorned, and simple, a warning to the assembled luminaries meant to prepare them for disempowerment. Surely it was received by many as a threat. ..... ... the disassembly of such a vast matrix of rackets is unlikely to be managed without generating a lot of dangerous friction. Such a tall order would require, at least, some finesse. Virtually all the powers of the Deep State are arrayed against him, and he can’t resist taunting them, a dangerous game. Despite the show of an orderly transition, a state of war exists between them. ... The problems with Obamacare, and so-called health care generally, are burdened with so many layers of arrant racketeering that the system may only be fixable if it is destroyed in its current form — the overgrown centralized hospitals, the overpaid insurance and hospital executives, the sore-beset physicians carrying six-figure college-and-med-school loans, the incomprehensible and extortionate pricing system for care, the cruel and insulting bureaucratic barriers to obtain care, the disgraceful behavior of the pharmaceutical companies, all add up to something no less than a colossal hostage racket, robbing and swindling people at their most vulnerable. So far, nobody has advanced a coherent plan for changing it. ... You think this is the dark night of the national soul? The sun only went down a few minutes ago and it’s a long hard slog to daybreak.
I'm hoping that CHS's impression that there is support for Trump from the US military who have grown weary of the Neocon's incessant wars-without-clearly-defined-purpose-or-goals. Pictured above is a middle-eastern city where womens' reproductive rights are being limited by incendiaries. ------------ I also see the anguish in my progressive, liberal family and friends and worry that Trump is just making TOO MANY enemies all at the same time. I wish that he could prioritize the really important and start there. Not piss off every dragon at one time. Then start working with finesse, and learn to speak tactfully to his specific goals. Something like "Our Mexican friends are wonderful people. However, the US must effectively protect its labor market. This is one of the main reason that nations must defend their borders. We are building a wall, not out of any animosity to our Mexican neighbors, but to protect the wages of American workers." Undo the impression that "Trump hates Mexicans." He needs a YELLOW Meme strategist on his team.

The Long Emergency is a must read for anyone serious about considering what lies ahead for our fossil fuel dependent civilization. I’m assuming anyone reading this post has already read “The Crash Course”.
One of the areas that Kunstler examines well and covers in his novels and ‘Too Much Magic’ also is our false sense of technological security. Technology, like any 'eco’system is very intertwined and therefore interdependent. As the foundation of fossil fuel energy collapses and the complexity of the system begins to spontaneously simplify ( which it must do since complexity is supported by energy flows ), then various technologies will begin to fail or become unstable and ‘new’ or rediscovered old ones will take their place.
I am reminded about the current situation in Siberia and Alaska where the perma frost is melting. The trees are losing their footings. The root systems have long be anchored in frozen soils and now they are in very unstable soil. The trees are leaning and falling. The whole ecosystem is changing.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140417-drunken-trees-melting-permafrost-global-warming-science/
So, when we think about the future uses of technology we have to remain flexible (resilient is one of this site’s favorite words) and be ready to abandon failing systems and invent or adopt others. Kunstler does this well in his writing. So does John Michael Greer especially in his new novel “Retrotopia”. Another good read on this subject which I’ve mentioned before is Dimitry Orlov’s latest book “The Technosphere”.
To hope for our current technologies to continue will require shunting more and more of the remaining energy flows to fewer and fewer people. The rest of us will end up like the homeless. Chris and Jim commented on this in the interview with the comment that the cutting back of the last 16 years has primarily been felt by the middle class. As long as we support and ‘believe in’ a bigger and better world of technological then we are supporting the reallocation of resources more and more away from less complex systems that can more equally involve and benefit people.
In the middle ages the little excess of the agricultural output of communities was funneled into building huge cathedrals. Our current support of technology has a similar feel to me. At least with the cathedrals everyone could go and pray or just look at the splendor of the architecture. Technology is much more pay as you go and so is much less egalitarian.

I couldn’t disagree more with Kunsler on this topic.
Examine his assumption.
We have to live within the confines of this two dimensional surface at the bottom of this gravity well.
Has Einstein figured out gravity? Or did he just describe a possible interpretation of the known phenomena?
The Stockholm Nobel prize was Not given to him for his Theory of Relatively which was considered speculation.
It was given for his photo electric effect.
Is Kunsler comfortable with looking little children in the eyes and saying “Sorry child, there is no room for you.Go away and die.”
And for what? In order to defend a Model of reality that is nearly a century old?.
We’ve got to get a better grip on Reality.

I have been a fan of JHK for probably fifteen years. I read “The Long Emergency” when I first started waking up to peak oil or whatever we are calling it now. Jim states in this podcast that the two best things we could do is invest in our railroads and our inland navigable waters. I totally agree. So if you click on the link below which will lead to the top 50 infrastructure priorities, please tell me what you see. I think whoever put this list together is well aware of the long emergency. Yes there are highway projects on the list. But take a look at the emphasis on ports, locks, mass transit and high speed rail (which I think we are past the point of and should concentrate on conventional rail) as well as Interstates. You have to put pork into a bill to get the votes. No infrastructure bill will ever be passed in the Congress without due attention to highways. To think otherwise is hoping for a grand enlightening which I don’t think will come until is too late. I’ll gladly accept the things on this list.
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3409546-Emergency-NatSec50Projects-121416-1-Reduced.html

Barnbuilder wrote:
So if you click on the link below which will lead to the top 50 infrastructure priorities, please tell me what you see. I think whoever put this list together is well aware of the long emergency. Yes there are highway projects on the list. But take a look at the emphasis on ports, locks, mass transit and high speed rail (which I think we are past the point of and should concentrate on conventional rail) as well as Interstates. You have to put pork into a bill to get the votes. No infrastructure bill will ever be passed in the Congress without due attention to highways. To think otherwise is hoping for a grand enlightening which I don't think will come until is too late. I'll gladly accept the things on this list. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3409546-Emergency-NatSec50Projects-121416-1-Reduced.html
There's nothing new here. Most of these projects have been considered for at least the past decade. The list has far too many highways, bridges, and airports to pass the "laugh test" for preparing for the long emergency. As a resident of rural Colorado, the two large highway expansion projects feeding cars into and out of Denver make me want to puke. When are we going to really wake up?

Maybe the same old story. Please publish your list of projects and how you propose to influence our legislators to fund them. I agree it is all being rehashed. But please show me where we start and how we get the support and commitment of taxpayer money (borrowed) to get the ball rolling. I am willing to work with anyone that has a doable answer to that question. I certainly don’t have any answers. I do know that rail and water projects are money spent that will produce results for decades. If it was me I would drastically reduce the highway funding. But until our other forms of infrastructure get rebuilt and modernized I really don’t see how we can survive as a country without those trucks rolling. I do not want to be anywhere near a Walmart when the shelves go bare.

Barnbuilder: Strong Towns has analyzed infrastructure spending in detail and determined that large federal infrastructure projects often make communities POORER. Huge amounts of money/debt are funneled into building infrastructure, and no money is allocated for operations & maintenance.
Here’s a summary of 5 ways that infrastructure spending makes cities poorer:
https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/1/2/five-ways-federal-infrastructure-spending-makes-cities-poorer
So, what are the alternatives? Instead of huge infrastructure projects that line the pockets of Bechtel, CSX, Dominion Energy, Anschutz/Wyoming Energy, and other fat cats, how about investing small and local? The solution to economic and social problems in the US is localization. I’m not saying that every project on the administration’s infrastructure list is a bad idea, but we need a serious analysis of cost/benefit for the long term.
Suggestions from Strong Towns:

Quote:
Charles Marohn: We need to prioritize maintenance over new capacity. With so many non-performing assets, it's irresponsible to build additional capacity. Project proposers will try to add additional capacity with their maintenance projects. If it is truly warranted, it can and should be funded locally. Cities need to discover ways to turn such investments into positive ROI projects, a process the federal government can only impede. We must prioritize small projects over large. Small projects not only spread the wealth, they have much greater potential for positive returns with far lower risk. Large projects exceed their budgets more often and with greater severity -- dollars and percentage -- than smaller projects. A thousand projects of a million dollars or less have far more financial upside than a single billion-dollar project ever will. It's administratively easier to do fewer, big projects, but that is a bureaucratic temptation we need to overcome. We should spend far more below ground than above. Many of our sewer and water systems are approaching 100 years old. When these core pipes fail, the problems cascade throughout the system. Technology may soon dramatically change how we use our roads and streets making investments in expansion there obsolete, but water and sewer will still flow through pipes as it has for thousands of years. We should spend at least $5 below ground for every $1 we spend above. We should prioritize neighborhoods more than 75 years old. We've modeled hundreds of cities across the country and in every one the neighborhoods with the highest investment potential are the ones that existed before World War II. These are established places where small investments have a huge impact. Most investments in neighborhoods built after World War II are simply bailouts, pouring good money after bad. Small maintenance projects focusing on below ground infrastructure in old, established neighborhoods have the greatest potential for positive returns. These projects will put people to work, create jobs and fix failing infrastructure as well as, if not better than, the large expansion projects currently in the shovel ready backlog. These are also the kind of projects that get private capital off the sidelines and back to work building wealth in our communities.
Why is it that everyone who hated the federal government two months ago suddenly thinks everything the federal government now wants to do is grand? It's the same f#$%^ing government. It's up to us to act locally. The gov'mint ain't gone solve our problems.
Waterdog14 wrote:
Barnbuilder: Strong Towns has analyzed infrastructure spending in detail and determined that large federal infrastructure projects often make communities POORER. Huge amounts of money/debt are funneled into building infrastructure, and no money is allocated for operations & maintenance. Here's a summary of 5 ways that infrastructure spending makes cities poorer: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/1/2/five-ways-federal-infrastructure-spending-makes-cities-poorer So, what are the alternatives? Instead of huge infrastructure projects that line the pockets of Bechtel, CSX, Dominion Energy, Anschutz/Wyoming Energy, and other fat cats, how about investing small and local? The solution to economic and social problems in the US is localization. I'm not saying that every project on the administration's infrastructure list is a bad idea, but we need a serious analysis of cost/benefit for the long term. Suggestions from Strong Towns:
Quote:
Charles Marohn: We need to prioritize maintenance over new capacity. With so many non-performing assets, it's irresponsible to build additional capacity. Project proposers will try to add additional capacity with their maintenance projects. If it is truly warranted, it can and should be funded locally. Cities need to discover ways to turn such investments into positive ROI projects, a process the federal government can only impede. We must prioritize small projects over large. Small projects not only spread the wealth, they have much greater potential for positive returns with far lower risk. Large projects exceed their budgets more often and with greater severity -- dollars and percentage -- than smaller projects. A thousand projects of a million dollars or less have far more financial upside than a single billion-dollar project ever will. It's administratively easier to do fewer, big projects, but that is a bureaucratic temptation we need to overcome. We should spend far more below ground than above. Many of our sewer and water systems are approaching 100 years old. When these core pipes fail, the problems cascade throughout the system. Technology may soon dramatically change how we use our roads and streets making investments in expansion there obsolete, but water and sewer will still flow through pipes as it has for thousands of years. We should spend at least $5 below ground for every $1 we spend above. We should prioritize neighborhoods more than 75 years old. We've modeled hundreds of cities across the country and in every one the neighborhoods with the highest investment potential are the ones that existed before World War II. These are established places where small investments have a huge impact. Most investments in neighborhoods built after World War II are simply bailouts, pouring good money after bad. Small maintenance projects focusing on below ground infrastructure in old, established neighborhoods have the greatest potential for positive returns. These projects will put people to work, create jobs and fix failing infrastructure as well as, if not better than, the large expansion projects currently in the shovel ready backlog. These are also the kind of projects that get private capital off the sidelines and back to work building wealth in our communities.
Why is it that everyone who hated the federal government two months ago suddenly thinks everything the federal government now wants to do is grand? It's the same f#$%^ing government. It's up to us to act locally. The gov'mint ain't gone solve our problems.
Okay I went to their website and read their Mission Statement. All sounded reasonable till I got to "Social Justice" . Sorry but that term has been abused so badly that I do not even know what it means. I totally agree with you about being local in our efforts. Rebuilding the Inland river system series of locks and dams or the regional rail exchange hubs is not something you are going to do in your community or me in mine. But grain, coal, and many other bulk commodities move over water and rail. That is one of the few things that requires a Federal presence. Do I want that Federal presence in my e-mail? browsing habits? what I buy online? what websites I visit? What I feed my kids? Do I buy raw milk? I think you know the answer to that. I did not hate the Federal Government two months ago. I am pro government. I want a government that follows their founding and authorizing document as an every day rule of the the road. If that was the case the Patriot Act wouldn't exist nor would the the detention clauses of the NDAA (might I add passed by overwhelming numbers of Donkeys and Elephants) I truly want a functioning government that is limited by it's road map (Constitution) and only does what is necessary to fulfill it's basic duties. It is not meant to be Papa and Mama to it's citizens. But to protect them from external threats that are not self created. Run a Postal Service, regulate trade between the states, (though that has been badly abused through the Interstate Commerce Misinterpretation) and then basically stay out of the way. I don't think the FedGov has any business in deciding if two guys can be married. That is up to the individual sovereigns (the states). Heresy to most but that is the way this country was set up.

Just saw on the Sunday PM news that the spillway on this CA lake is near failure and could flood a number of towns up to 100ft deep. The combo of recent rainfalls and probable less than optimum upkeep of the spillway have coalesced into an ‘unexpected’ disaster. Kunstler’s views on misallocated.resouces resonates with this unfolding event. Keeping up appearances is easier than maintaining vital installed infrastructure. I hope this plays out well for the affected residents.