Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Limits to Growth
Abstract established by Eduard Pestel. A Report to The Club of Rome (1972),
by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis l. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, William W. Behrens III

Short Version of the Limits to Growth

Our world model was built specifically to investigate five major trends of global concern – accelerating industrialization, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and a deteriorating environment.

The model we have constructed is, like every model, imperfect, oversimplified, and unfinished.

In spite of the preliminary state of our work, we believe it is important to publish the model and our findings now. (...) We feel that the model described here is already sufficiently developed to be of some use to decision-makers. Furthermore, the basic behavior modes we have already observed in this model appear to be so fundamental and general that we do not expect our broad conclusions to be substantially altered by further revisions.

Our conclusions are :

1. If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

2. It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability
that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

If the world's people decide to strive for this second outcome rather than the first, the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success.

All five elements basic to the study reported here--population, food production, and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources--are increasing. The amount of their increase each year follows a pattern that mathematicians call exponential growth.

A quantity exhibits exponential growth when it increases by a constant percentage of the whole in a constant time period.

Such exponential growth is a common process in biological, financial, and many other systems of the world.

Exponential growth is a dynamic phenomenon, which means that it involves elements that change over time. (...) When many different quantities are growing simultaneously in a system, however, and when all the quantities are interrelated in a complicated way, analysis of the causes of growth and of the future behavior
of the system becomes very difficult indeed.

Over the course of the last 30 years there has evolved at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a new method for understanding the dynamic behavior of complex systems. The method is called System Dynamics. The basis of the method is the recongnition that the structure of any system--the many circular,
interlocking, sometimes time-delayed relationships among its components--is often just as important in determining its behavior as the individual components themselves. The world model described in this book is a System Dynamics model

Extrapolation of present trends is a time-honored way of looking into the future, especially the very near future, and especially if the quantity being considered is not much influenced by other trends that are occuring elsewhere in the system. Of course, none of the five factors we are examining here is independent.
Each interacts constantly with all the others. We have already mentioned some of these interactions. Population cannot grow without food, food production is increased by growth of capital, more capital requires more resources, discarded resources become pollution, pollution interferes with the growth of both
population and food.

Furthermore, over long time periods each of these factors also feeds back to influence itself.

In this first simple world model, we are interested only in the broad behavior modes of the population-capital system. By behavior modes we mean the tendencies of the variables in the system (population or pollution, for example) to change as time progresses.

A major purpose in constructing the world model has been to determine which, if any, of these behavior modes will be most characteristic of the world system as it reaches the limits to growth. This process of determining behavior modes is "prediction" only in the most limited sense of the word.

Because we are interested at this point only in broad behavior modes, this first world model needs not be extremely detailed. We thus consider only one general population, a population that statistically reflects the average characteristics of the global population. We include only one class of pollutants--the long-lived,
globally distributed family of pollutants, such as lead, mercury, asbestos, and stable pesticides and radioisotopes--whose dynamic behavior in the ecosystem we are beginning to understand. We plot one generalized resource that represents the combined reserves of all nonrenewable resourCes, although we know that each separate resource will follow the general dynamic pattern at its own specific level and rate.

This high level of aggregation is necessary at this point to keep the model understandable. At the same time it limits the information we can expect to gain from the model.

Can anything be learned from such a highly aggregated model? Can its output be considered meaningful? In terms of exact predictions, the output is not meaningful.

On the other hand it is vitally important to gain some understanding of the causes of growth in human society, the limits to growth, and the behavior of our socio-economic systems when the limits are reached.

All levels in the model (population, capital, pollution, etc.) begin with 1900 values. From 1900 to 1970 the variables agree generally with their historical value to the extent that we know them. Population rises from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 3.5 billion in 1970. Although the birth rate declines gradually, the death rate falls more quickly, especially after 1940, and the rate of population growth increases. Industrial output, food and services per capita increase exponentially. The resource base in 1970 is still about 95 percent of its 1900 value, but it declines dramatically thereafter, as population and industrial output continue to grow.

The behavior mode of the system is that of overshoot and collapse. In this run the collapse occurs because of nonrenewable resource depletion. The industrial capital stock grows to a level that requires an enormous input of resources. In the very process of that growth it depletes a large fraction of the resource reserves
available. As resource prices rise and mines are depleted, more and more capital must be used for obtaining resources, leaving less to be invested for future growth. Finally investment cannot keep up with depreciation, and the industrial base collapses, taking with it the service and agricultural systems, which have become dependent on industrial inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hospital laboratories, computers, and especially energy for mechanization). For a short time the situation is especially serious because population, with the delays inherent in the age structure and the process of social adjustment, keeps rising.
Population finally decreases when the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services. The exact timing of these events is not meaningful, given the great aggregation and many uncertainties in the model. It is significant, however, that growth is stopped well before the year 2100. We have tried in every doubtful case to make the most optimistic estimate of unknown quantities, and we have also ignored discontinuous events such as wars or epidemics, which might act to bring an end to growth even sooner than our model would indicate. In other words, the model is biased to allow growth to continue longer than it probably can continue in the real world. We can thus say with some confidence that, under the assumption of no major change in the present system, population and industrial growth will certainly stop within the next century, at the latest.

To test the model assumption about available resources, we doubled the resource reserves in 1900, keeping all other assumptions identical to those in the standard run. Now industrialization can reach a higher level since resources are not so quickly depleted. The larger industrial plant releases pollution at such a rate,
however, that the environmental pollution absorption mechanisms become saturated. Pollution rises very rapidly, causing an immediate increase in the death rate and a decline in food production. At the end of the run resources are severely depleted in spite of the doubled amount initially available.

Is the future of the world system bound to be growth and then collapse into a dismal, depleted existence? Only if we make the initial assumption that our present way of doing things will not change. We have ample evidence of mankind's ingenuity and social flexibility. There are, of course, many likely changes in the system, some of which are already taking place. The Green Revolution is raising agricultural yields in non industrialized countries. Knowledge about modern methods of birth control is spreading rapidly.

Although the history of human effort contains numerous incidents of mankind's failure to live within physical limits, it is success in overcoming limits that forms the cultural tradition of many dominant people in today's world. Over the past three hundred years, mankind has compiled an impressive record of pushing back the apparent limits to population and economic growth by a series of spectacular technological advances. Since the recent history of a large part of human society has been so continuously successful, it is quite natural that many people expect technological breakthrough to go on raising physical ceilings indefinitely.

Will new technologies alter the tendency of the world system to grow and collapse?

Let us assume, however, that the technological optimists are correct and that nuclear energy will solve the resource problems of the world.

Let us also assume a reduction in pollution generation all sources by a factor of four, starting in 1975.

Let us also assume that the normal yield per hectare of all the world's land can be further increased by a factor of two.Besides we assume perfect birth control, practiced voluntarily, starting in 1975.

All this means we are utilizing a technological policy in every sector of the world model to circumvent in some way the various limits to growth. The model system is producing nuclear power, recycling resources, and mining the most remote reserves; withholding as many pollutants as possible; pushing yields from the land to undreamed-of heights; and producing only children who are actively wanted by their parents. The result is still an end to growth before the year 2100.

Because of three siumultaneous crises. Overuse of land leads to erosion, and food production drops. Resources are severly depleted by a prosperous world population (but not as prosperous as the present US population). Pollution rises, drops, and then rises again dramatically, causing a further decrease in food production and a sudden rise in the death rate. The application of technological solutions alone has
prolonged the period of population and industrial growth, but it has not removed the ultimate limits to that growth.

Given the many approximations and limitations of the world model, there is no point in dwelling glumly on the series of catastrophes it tends to generate. We shall emphasize just one more time that none of these computer outputs is a prediction. We would not expect the real world to behave like the world model in any of the graphs we have shown, especially in the collapse modes. The model contains dynamic statements about only the physical aspects of man's activities. It assumes that social variables--income distribution, attitudes about family size, choices among goods, services, and food--will continue to follow the same patterns they have followed throughout the world in recent history. These patterns, and the human value
they represent, were all established in the growth phase of our civilization. They would certainly be greatly revised as population and income began to decrease. Since we find it difficult to imagine what new forms of human societal behavior might emerge and how quickly they would emerge under collapse conditions, we have not attempted to model such social changes. What validity our model has holds up only to the point in each output graph at which growth comes to an end and collapse begins.

The unspoken assumption behind all of the model runs we have presented in this chapter is that population and capital growth should be allowed to continue until they reach some "natural" limit. This assumption also appears to be a basic part of the human value system currently operational in the real world. Given that first
assumption, that population and capital growth should not be deliberately limited but should be left to "seek their own levels", we have not been able to find a set of policies that avoids the collapse mode of behavior.

The hopes of the technological optimists center on the ability of technology to remove or extend the limits to growth of population and capital. We have shown that in the world model the application of technology to apparent problems of resource depletion or pollution or food shortage has no impact on the essential problem, which is exponential growth in a finite and complex system. Our attempts to use even the most optimistic estimates of the benefits of technology in the model did not prevent the ultimate decline of population and industry, and in fact did not in any case postpone the collapse beyond the year 2100.

Unfortunately the model does not indicate, at this stage, the social side-effects of new technologies. These effects are often the most important in terms of the influence of a technology on people's lives.

Social side-effects must be anticipated and forestalled before the large-scale introduction of a new technology.

While technology can change rapidly, political and social, insitutions generally change very slowly. Furthermore, they almost never change in anticipation of social need, but only in response to one.

We must also keep in mind the presence of social delays--the delays necessary to allow society to absorb or to prepare for a change. Most delays, physical or social reduce the stability of the world system and increase the likelihood of the overshoot mode. The social delays, like the physical ones, are becoming
increasingly more critical because the processes of exponential growth are creating additional pressures at a faster and faster rate. Although the rate of technological change has so far managed to keep up with this accelerated pace, mankind has made virtually no new discoveries to increase the rate of social, political, ethical, and cultural change.

Even if society's technological progress fulfills all expectations, it may very well be a problem with no technical solution, or the interaction of several such problems, that finally brings an end to population and capital growth.

Applying technology to the natural pressures that the environment exerts against any growth process has been so successful in the past that a whole culture has evolved around the principle of fighting against limits rather than learning to live with them.

Is it better to try to live within that limit by accepting a self-imposed restriction on growth? Or is it preferable to go on growing until some other natural limit arises, in the hope that at that time another technological leap will allow growth to continue still longer? For the last several hundred years human
society has followed the second course so consistently and successfully that the first choice has been all but forgotten.

There may be much disagreement with the statement that population and capital growth must stop soon. But virtually no one will argue that material growth on this planet can go on forever. At this point in man's history, the choice posed above is still available in almost every sphere of human activity. Man can still choose his limits and stops when he pleases by weakening some of the strong pressures that cause capital and population growth, or by instituting counterpressures, or both. Such counterpresures will probably not be entirely pleasant. They will certainly involve profund changes in the social and economic structures that have been deeply impressed into human culture by centuries of growth. The alternative is to wait until the price of technology becomes more than society can pay, or until the side-effects of technology suppress growth themselves, or until problems arise that have no technical solutions. At any of those points the choice of limits will be gone.

Faith in technology as the ultimate solution to all problems can thus divert our attention from the most fundamental problem--the problem of growth in a finite system--and prevent us from taking effective action to solve it.

On the other hand, our intent is certainly not to brand technology as evil or futile or unnecessary. We strongly believe that many of the technological developments mentioned here--recycling, pollution-control devices, contraceptives--will be absolutely vital to the future of human society if they are combined with
deliberate checks on growth. We would deplore an unreasoned rejection of the benefit of technology as strongly as we argue here against an unreasoned acceptance of them. Perhaps the best summary of our position is the motto of the Sierra Club : "Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress".

We would hope that society will receive each technological advance by establishing the answers to three questions before the technology is widely adopted. The questions are:

- What will be the side-effects, both physical and social, if this development is introduced on a large scale?

- What social changes will be necessary before this development can be implemented properly, and how long will it take to achieve them ?

- If the development is fully successful and removes some natural limits to growth, what limit will the growing system meet next? Will society prefer its pressures to the ones this development is designed to remove?

We are searching for a model that represents a world system that is:

1. sustainable without sudden and uncontrollable collapse; and

2. capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of all of its people

The overwhelming growth in world population caused by the positive birth-rate loop is a recent phenomenon, a result of mankind's very successful reduction of worldwide mortality. The controlling negative feedback loop has been weakened, allowing the positive loop to operate virtually without constraint. There are only two ways to restore the resulting imbalance. Either the birth rate must be brought down to
equal the new, lower death rate, or the death rate must rise again. All of the "natural" constraints to population growth operate in the second way--they raise the death. Any society wishing to avoid that result must take deliberate action to control the positive feedback loop--to reduce the birth rate.

But stabilizing population alone is not sufficient to prevent overshoot and collapse; a similar run with constant capital and rising population shows that stabilizing capital alone is also not sufficient. What happens if we bring both positive feedback loops under control simultaneously? We can stabilize the capital stock in the model by requiring that the investment rate equal the depreciation rate, with an additional model link exactly analogous to the population-stabilizing one.

The result of stopping population growth in 1975 and industrial capital growth in 1985 with no other changes is that population and capital reach constant values at a relatively high level of food, industrial output and services per person. Eventually, however, resource shortages reduce industrial output and the temporily stable state degenerates. However, we can improve the model behavior greatly by conbining technological changes with value changes that reduce the growth tendencies of the system.

Then the stable world population is only slightly larger than the population today. There is more than twice as much food per person as the average value in 1970, and world average lifetime is nearly 70 years. The average industrial output per capita is well above today's level, and services per capita have tripled. Total average income per capita (industrial output, food, and services combined) is about half the present average US income, equal to the present average European income, and three times the present average world income. Resources are still being gradually depleted, as they must be under any realistic assumption, but the rate of depletion is so slow that there is time for technology and industry to adjust to changes in resource availability.

If we relax our most unrealistic assumption--that we can suddenly and absolutely stabilize population and capital, replacing them with the following:

1. The population has access to 100 percent effective birth control.

2. The average desired family size is two children.

3. The economic system endeavors to maintain average industrial output per capita at about the 1975 level. Excess industrial capability is employed for producing consumption goods rather than increasing the industrial capital investment rate above the depreciation rate.

We do not suppose that any single one of the policies necessary to attain system stability in the model can or should be suddenly introduced in the world by 1975. A society choosing stability as a goal certainly must approach that goal gradually. It is important to realize, however, that the longer exponential growth is allowed to continue, the fewer possibilities remain for the final stable rate.

Many people will think that the changes we have introduced into the model to avoid the growth-and collapse behavior mode are not only impossible, but unpleasant, dangerous, even disastrous in themselves. Such policies as reducing the birth rate and diverting capital from production of material goods, by whatever means they might be implemented, seem unnatural and unimaginable, because they have not, in most
people's experience, been tried, or even seriously suggested. Indeed there would be little point even in discussing such fundamental changes in the functioning of modern society if we felt that the present pattern of unrestricted growth were sustainable into the future. All the evidence available to us, however, suggests
that of the three alternatives--unrestricted growth, a self-imposed limitation to growth, or a nature-imposed limitation to growth--only the last two are actually possible.

Achieving a self-imposed limitation to growth would require much effort. It would involve learning to do many things in new ways. It would tax the ingenuity, the flexibility, and the self-discipline of the human race. Bringing a deliberate, controlled end to growth is a tremendous challenge, not easiliy met. Would the
final result be worth the effort? What would humanity gain by siuuch a transition, and what would it,lose? Let us consider in more detail what a world of nongrowth might be like.

We have after much discussion, decided to call the state of constant population and capital, by the term "equilibrium". Equilibrium means a state of balance or equality between opposing forces. In the dynamic terms of the world model, the opposing forces are those causing population and capital stock to increase (high desired family size, low birth control effectivness, high rate of capital investment) and those causing population and capital stock to decrease (lack of food, pollution, high rate of depreciation or obsolescence). The word "capital" should be understood to mean service, industrial, and agricultural capital combined. Thus the most basic definition of the state of global equilibrium is that population and capital are essentially stable, with the forces tending to increase or decrease them in a carefully controlled balance.

There is much room for variation within that definition. We have only specified that the stocks of capital and population remain constant, but they might theoretically be constant at a high level or a low level--or one might be high and the other low. The longer a society prefers to maintain the state of equilibrium, the lower the rates and levels must be.

By choosing a fairly long time horizon for its existence, and a long average lifetime as a desirable goal, we have now arrived at a minimum set of requirements for the state of global equilibrium. They are:

1. The capital plant and the population are constant in size.The birth rate equals the death rate and the capital investment rate equals the depreciation rate.

2. All input and output rates--birth, death, investment, and depreciation--are kept to a minimum.

3. The levels of capital and population and the ratio of the two are set in accordance with the values of the society.They may be deliberately revised and slowly adjusted as the advance of technology creates new options.

An equilibrium defined in this way does not mean stagnation. Within the first two guidelines above, corporations could expand or fail, local populations could increase or decrease income could become more or less evenly distributed. Technological advance would permit the services provided by a constant stock of
capital to increase slowly. Within the third guideline, any country could change its average standard of living by altering the balance between its population and its capital. Furthermore, a society could adjust to changing internal or external factors by raising or lowering the population or capital stocks, or both, slowly
and in a controlled fashion, with a predetermined goal in mind. The three points above define a dynamic equilibrium, which need not and probably would not "freeze" the world into the population-Capital configuration that happens to exist at present time. The object in accepting the above three statements is to create freedom for society, not to impose a straitjacket.

What would life be like in such an equilibrium state? Would innovation be stifled? Would society be locked into the patterns of inequality and injustice we see in the world today? Discussion of these questions must proceed on the basis of mental models, for there is no formal model of social conditions in the equilibrium
state. No one can predict what sort of institutions mankind might develop under these new conditions. There is, of course, no guarantee that the new society would be much better or even much different from that which exists today. It seems possible, however, that a society released from struggling with the many problems caused by growth may have more energy and ingenuity available for solving other problems. In fact, we believe, that the evolution of a society that favors innovation and technological development, a society based on equality and justice, is far more likely to evolve in a state of global equilibrium than it is in
the state of growth we are experiencing today

Population and capital are the only quantities that need be constant in the equilibrium state. Any human activity that does not require a large flow of irreplaceable resources or produce severe environmental degradation might continue to grow indefinitely. In particular, those pursuits that many people would list as
the most desirable and satisfying activities of man--education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics, and social interactions--could flourish.

All of the activities listed above depend very strongly on two factors. First, they depend upon the availability of some surplus production after the basixc human needs of fod and shelter have been met. Second, they require leisure time. In any equilibrium state the relative levels of capital and population could be adjusted to
assure that human material needs are fulfilled at any desired level. Since the amount of material production would be essentially fixed, every improvement in production methods could result in increased leisure for the population--leisure that could be devoted to any activity that is relatively nonconsuming and nonpolluting, such as those listed above

Technological advance would be both necessary and welcome in the equilibrium state. The picture of the equilibrium state we have drawn here is idealized, to be sure. It may be impossible to achieve in the form desribed here, and it may not be the form most people on earth would choose. The only purpose in describing it at all is to emphasize that global equilibrium need not mean an end to progress or human
development. The possibilities within an equilibrium state are almost endless.

An equilibrium state would not be free of pressures, since no society can be free of pressure. Equilibrium would require trading certain human freedoms, such as producing unlimited numbers of children or consuming uncontrolled amounts of resources, for other freedoms, such as relief from pollution and crowding and the threat of collapse of the world system. is possible that new freedoms might also
arise--universal and unlimited education, leisure for creativity and inventiveness, and, most important of all, the freedom from hunger and poverty enjoyed by such a small fraction of the world's people today.

We can say very little at this point about the practical, day by-day steps that might be taken to reach a desirable, sustainable state of global equilibrium. Neither the world model nor our own thoughts have been developed in sufficient detail to understand all the implications of the transition from growth to equilibrium. Before any part of the world's society embarks deliberately on such a transition, there must be much more discussion, more extensive analysis, and many new ideas contributed by many different people.

The equilibrium society will have to weigh the trade-offs engendered by a finite earth not only with consideration of present human values but also with consideration of future generations. long-term goals must be specified and short term goals made consistent with them.

We end on a note of urgency. We have repeatedly emphasized the importance of the natural delays in the population-capital system of the world. These delays mean, for example, that if Mexico's birth rate gradually declined from its present value to an exact replacement value by the year 2000, the country's population would continue to grow until the year 2060. During that time the population would grow from 50 million to 130 million. We cannot say with certainty how much longer mankind can postpone initiating deliberate control of its growth before it will have lost the chance for control. We suspect on the basis of present knowledge of the physical constraints of the planet that the growth phase cannot continue for another one hundred years. Again, because of the delays in the system, if the global society waits until those constraints are unmistakably apparent, it will have waited too long.

If there is cause for deep concern, there is also cause for hope. Deliberately limiting growth would be difficult, but not impossible. The way to proceed is clear, and the necessary steps, although they are new ones for human society, are well within human capabilities. Man possesses, for a small moment in his history, the most powerful combination of knowledge, tools, and resources the world has ever known. He has all that is physically necessary to create a totally new form of human society--one that would be built to last for generations. The two missing ingredients are a realistic, long-term goal that can guide mankind to the equilibrium society and the human will to achieve that goal. Without such a goal and a commitment to it, short-term concerns will generate the exponential growth that drives the world system toward the limits of the earth and ultimate collapse. With that goal and that commitment, mankind would be ready now to begin a controlled, orderly transition from growth to global equilibrium.
The Tragedy of the Commons
Garrett Hardin (1968)

"The Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett Hardin, Science, 162(1968):1243-1248.

At the end of a thoughtful article on the future of nuclear war, J.B. Wiesner and H.F. York concluded that: "Both sides in the arms race are…confronted by the dilemma of steadily increasing military power and steadily decreasing national security. It is our considered professional judgment that this dilemma has no technical solution. If the great powers continue to look for solutions in the area of science and technology only, the result will be to worsen the situation.'' [1]

I would like to focus your attention not on the subject of the article (national security in a nuclear world) but on the kind of conclusion they reached, namely that there is no technical solution to the problem. An implicit and almost universal assumption of discussions published in professional and semipopular scientific journals is that the problem under discussion has a technical solution. A technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality.

In our day (though not in earlier times) technical solutions are always welcome. Because of previous failures in prophecy, it takes courage to assert that a desired technical solution is not possible. Wiesner and York exhibited this courage; publishing in a science journal, they insisted that the solution to the problem was not to be found in the natural sciences. They cautiously qualified their statement with the phrase, "It is our considered professional judgment...." Whether they were right or not is not the concern of the present article. Rather, the concern here is with the important concept of a class of human problems which can be called "no technical solution problems," and more specifically, with the identification and discussion of one of these.

It is easy to show that the class is not a null class. Recall the game of tick-tack-toe. Consider the problem, "How can I win the game of tick-tack-toe?" It is well known that I cannot, if I assume (in keeping with the conventions of game theory) that my opponent understands the game perfectly. Put another way, there is no "technical solution" to the problem. I can win only by giving a radical meaning to the word "win." I can hit my opponent over the head; or I can falsify the records. Every way in which I "win" involves, in some sense, an abandonment of the game, as we intuitively understand it. (I can also, of course, openly abandon the game -- refuse to play it. This is what most adults do.)

The class of "no technical solution problems" has members. My thesis is that the "population problem," as conventionally conceived, is a member of this class. How it is conventionally conceived needs some comment. It is fair to say that most people who anguish over the population problem are trying to find a way to avoid the evils of overpopulation without relinquishing any of the privileges they now enjoy. They think that farming the seas or developing new strains of wheat will solve the problem -- technologically. I try to show here that the solution they seek cannot be found. The population problem cannot be solved in a technical way, any more than can the problem of winning the game of tick-tack-toe.

What Shall We Maximize?

Population, as Malthus said, naturally tends to grow "geometrically," or, as we would now say, exponentially. In a finite world this means that the per-capita share of the world's goods must decrease. Is ours a finite world?

A fair defense can be put forward for the view that the world is infinite or that we do not know that it is not. But, in terms of the practical problems that we must face in the next few generations with the foreseeable technology, it is clear that we will greatly increase human misery if we do not, during the immediate future, assume that the world available to the terrestrial human population is finite. "Space" is no escape. [2]

A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero. (The case of perpetual wide fluctuations above and below zero is a trivial variant that need not be discussed.) When this condition is met, what will be the situation of mankind? Specifically, can Bentham's goal of "the greatest good for the greatest number" be realized?

No -- for two reasons, each sufficient by itself. The first is a theoretical one. It is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables at the same time. This was clearly stated by von Neumann and Morgenstern, [3] but the principle is implicit in the theory of partial differential equations, dating back at least to D'Alembert (1717-1783).

The second reason springs directly from biological facts. To live, any organism must have a source of energy (for example, food). This energy is utilized for two purposes: mere maintenance and work. For man maintenance of life requires about 1600 kilocalories a day ("maintenance calories"). Anything that he does over and above merely staying alive will be defined as work, and is supported by "work calories" which he takes in. Work calories are used not only for what we call work in common speech; they are also required for all forms of enjoyment, from swimming and automobile racing to playing music and writing poetry. If our goal is to maximize population it is obvious what we must do: We must make the work calories per person approach as close to zero as possible. No gourmet meals, no vacations, no sports, no music, no literature, no art…I think that everyone will grant, without argument or proof, that maximizing population does not maximize goods. Bentham's goal is impossible.

In reaching this conclusion I have made the usual assumption that it is the acquisition of energy that is the problem. The appearance of atomic energy has led some to question this assumption. However, given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation, as J. H. Fremlin has so wittily shown. [4] The arithmetic signs in the analysis are, as it were, reversed; but Bentham's goal is unobtainable.

The optimum population is, then, less than the maximum. The difficulty of defining the optimum is enormous; so far as I know, no one has seriously tackled this problem. Reaching an acceptable and stable solution will surely require more than one generation of hard analytical work -- and much persuasion.

We want the maximum good per person; but what is good? To one person it is wilderness, to another it is ski lodges for thousands. To one it is estuaries to nourish ducks for hunters to shoot; to another it is factory land. Comparing one good with another is, we usually say, impossible because goods are incommensurable. Incommensurables cannot be compared.

Theoretically this may be true; but in real life incommensurables are commensurable. Only a criterion of judgment and a system of weighting are needed. In nature the criterion is survival. Is it better for a species to be small and hideable, or large and powerful? Natural selection commensurates the incommensurables. The compromise achieved depends on a natural weighting of the values of the variables.

Man must imitate this process. There is no doubt that in fact he already does, but unconsciously. It is when the hidden decisions are made explicit that the arguments begin. The problem for the years ahead is to work out an acceptable theory of weighting. Synergistic effects, nonlinear variation, and difficulties in discounting the future make the intellectual problem difficult, but not (in principle) insoluble.

Has any cultural group solved this practical problem at the present time, even on an intuitive level? One simple fact proves that none has: there is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero. Any people that has intuitively identified its optimum point will soon reach it, after which its growth rate becomes and remains zero.

Of course, a positive growth rate might be taken as evidence that a population is below its optimum. However, by any reasonable standards, the most rapidly growing populations on earth today are (in general) the most miserable. This association (which need not be invariable) casts doubt on the optimistic assumption that the positive growth rate of a population is evidence that it has yet to reach its optimum.

We can make little progress in working toward optimum population size until we explicitly exorcise the spirit of Adam Smith in the field of practical demography. In economic affairs, The Wealth of Nations (1776) popularized the "invisible hand," the idea that an individual who "intends only his own gain," is, as it were, "led by an invisible hand to promote…the public interest." [5] Adam Smith did not assert that this was invariably true, and perhaps neither did any of his followers. But he contributed to a dominant tendency of thought that has ever since interfered with positive action based on rational analysis, namely, the tendency to assume that decisions reached individually will, in fact, be the best decisions for an entire society. If this assumption is correct it justifies the continuance of our present policy of laissez faire in reproduction. If it is correct we can assume that men will control their individual fecundity so as to produce the optimum population. If the assumption is not correct, we need to reexamine our individual freedoms to see which ones are defensible.

Tragedy of Freedom in a Commons

The rebuttal to the invisible hand in population control is to be found in a scenario first sketched in a little-known Pamphlet in 1833 by a mathematical amateur named William Forster Lloyd (1794-1852). [6] We may well call it "the tragedy of the commons," using the word "tragedy" as the philosopher Whitehead used it [7]: "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things." He then goes on to say, "This inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama."

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1. The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly + 1.

2. The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision­making herdsman is only a fraction of - 1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another.... But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit -- in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Some would say that this is a platitude. Would that it were! In a sense, it was learned thousands of years ago, but natural selection favors the forces of psychological denial. [8] The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers. Education can counteract the natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed.

A simple incident that occurred a few years ago in Leominster, Massachusetts shows how perishable the knowledge is. During the Christmas shopping season the parking meters downtown were covered with plastic bags that bore tags reading: "Do not open until after Christmas. Free parking courtesy of the mayor and city council." In other words, facing the prospect of an increased demand for already scarce space, the city fathers reinstituted the system of the commons. (Cynically, we suspect that they gained more votes than they lost by this retrogressive act.)

In an approximate way, the logic of the commons has been understood for a long time, perhaps since the discovery of agriculture or the invention of private property in real estate. But it is understood mostly only in special cases which are not sufficiently generalized. Even at this late date, cattlemen leasing national land on the Western ranges demonstrate no more than an ambivalent understanding, in constantly pressuring federal authorities to increase the head count to the point where overgrazing produces erosion and weed-dominance. Likewise, the oceans of the world continue to suffer from the survival of the philosophy of the commons. Maritime nations still respond automatically to the shibboleth of the "freedom of the seas." Professing to believe in the "inexhaustible resources of the oceans," they bring species after species of fish and whales closer to extinction. [9]

The National Parks present another instance of the working out of the tragedy of the commons. At present, they are open to all, without limit. The parks themselves are limited in extent -- there is only one Yosemite Valley -- whereas population seems to grow without limit. The values that visitors seek in the parks are steadily eroded. Plainly, we must soon cease to treat the parks as commons or they will be of no value to anyone.

What shall we do? We have several options. We might sell them off as private property. We might keep them as public property, but allocate the right to enter them. The allocation might be on the basis of wealth, by the use of an auction system. It might be on the basis of merit, as defined by some agreed­upon standards. It might be by lottery. Or it might be on a first-come, first-served basis, administered to long queues. These, I think, are all objectionable. But we must choose -- or acquiesce in the destruction of the commons that we call our National Parks.


In a reverse way, the tragedy of the commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in -- sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. The calculations of utility are much the same as before. The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of "fouling our own nest," so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free enterprisers.

The tragedy of the commons as a food basket is averted by private property, or something formally like it. But the air and waters surrounding us cannot readily be fenced, and so the tragedy of the commons as a cesspool must be prevented by different means, by coercive laws or taxing devices that make it cheaper for the polluter to treat his pollutants than to discharge them untreated. We have not progressed as far with the solution of this problem as we have with the first. Indeed, our particular concept of private property, which deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth, favors pollution. The owner of a factory on the bank of a stream -- whose property extends to the middle of the stream -- often has difficulty seeing why it is not his natural right to muddy the waters flowing past his door. The law, always behind the times, requires elaborate stitching and fitting to adapt it to this newly perceived aspect of the commons.

The pollution problem is a consequence of population. It did not much matter how a lonely American frontiersman disposed of his waste. "Flowing water purifies itself every ten miles," my grandfather used to say, and the myth was near enough to the truth when he was a boy, for there were not too many people. But as population became denser, the natural chemical and biological recycling processes became overloaded, calling for a redefinition of property rights.

How to Legislate Temperance?

Analysis of the pollution problem as a function of population density uncovers a not generally recognized principle of morality, namely: the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed. [10] Using the commons as a cesspool does not harm the general public under frontier conditions, because there is no public; the same behavior in a metropolis is unbearable. A hundred and fifty years ago a plainsman could kill an American bison, cut out only the tongue for his dinner, and discard the rest of the animal. He was not in any important sense being wasteful. Today, with only a few thousand bison left, we would be appalled at such behavior.

In passing, it is worth noting that the morality of an act cannot be determined from a photograph. One does not know whether a man killing an elephant or setting fire to the grassland is harming others until one knows the total system in which his act appears. "One picture is worth a thousand words," said an ancient Chinese; but it may take ten thousand words to validate it. It is as tempting to ecologists as it is to reformers in general to try to persuade others by way of the photographic shortcut. But the essence of an argument cannot be photographed: it must be presented rationally -- in words.

That morality is system-sensitive escaped the attention of most codifiers of ethics in the past. "Thou shalt not…" is the form of traditional ethical directives which make no allowance for particular circumstances. The laws of our society follow the pattern of ancient ethics, and therefore are poorly suited to governing a complex, crowded, changeable world. Our epicyclic solution is to augment statutory law with administrative law. Since it is practically impossible to spell out all the conditions under which it is safe to burn trash in the back yard or to run an automobile without smog­control, by law we delegate the details to bureaus. The result is administrative law, which is rightly feared for an ancient reason -- Quis custodies ipsos custodes? --Who shall watch the watchers themselves? John Adams said that we must have a "government of laws and not men." Bureau administrators, trying to evaluate the morality of acts in the total system, are singularly liable to corruption, producing a government by men, not laws.

Prohibition is easy to legislate (though not necessarily to enforce); but how do we legislate temperance? Experience indicates that it can be accomplished best through the mediation of administrative law. We limit possibilities unnecessarily if we suppose that the sentiment of Quis custodiet denies us the use of administrative law. We should rather retain the phrase as a perpetual reminder of fearful dangers we cannot avoid. The great challenge facing us now is to invent the corrective feedbacks that are needed to keep custodians honest. We must find ways to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks.

Freedom to Breed Is Intolerable

The tragedy of the commons is involved in population problems in another way. In a world governed solely by the principle of "dog eat dog" --if indeed there ever was such a world--how many children a family had would not be a matter of public concern. Parents who bred too exuberantly would leave fewer descendants, not more, because they would be unable to care adequately for their children. David Lack and others have found that such a negative feedback demonstrably controls the fecundity of birds. [11] But men are not birds, and have not acted like them for millenniums, at least.

If each human family were dependent only on its own resources; if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if thus, over breeding brought its own "punishment" to the germ line -- then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families. But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state, [12] and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class (or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group) that adopts over breeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement? [13] To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.

Unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations. In late 1967, some thirty nations agreed to the following: "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.'' [14]

It is painful to have to deny categorically the validity of this right; denying it, one feels as uncomfortable as a resident of Salem, Massachusetts, who denied the reality of witches in the seventeenth century. At the present time, in liberal quarters, something like a taboo acts to inhibit criticism of the United Nations. There is a feeling that the United Nations is "our last and best hope," that we shouldn't find fault with it; we shouldn't play into the hands of the archconservatives. However, let us not forget what Robert Louis Stevenson said: "The truth that is suppressed by friends is the readiest weapon of the enemy." If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is promoted by the United Nations. We should also join with Kingsley Davis [15] in attempting to get Planned Parenthood-World Population to see the error of its ways in embracing the same tragic ideal.

Conscience Is Self-Eliminating

It is a mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience. Charles Galton Darwin made this point when he spoke on the centennial of the publication of his grandfather's great book. The argument is straightforward and Darwinian.

People vary. Confronted with appeals to limit breeding, some people will undoubtedly respond to the plea more than others. Those who have more children will produce a larger fraction of the next generation than those with more susceptible consciences. The differences will be accentuated, generation by generation.

In C. G. Darwin's words: "It may well be that it would take hundreds of generations for the progenitive instinct to develop in this way, but if it should do so, nature would have taken her revenge, and the variety Homo contracipiens would become extinct and would be replaced by the variety Homo progenitivus. [16]

The argument assumes that conscience or the desire for children (no matter which) is hereditary-but hereditary only in the most general formal sense. The result will be the same whether the attitude is transmitted through germ cells, or exosomatically, to use A. J. Lotka's term. (If one denies the latter possibility as well as the former, then what's the point of education?) The argument has here been stated in the context of the population problem, but it applies equally well to any instance in which society appeals to an individual exploiting a commons to restrain himself for the general good -- by means of his conscience. To make such an appeal is to set up a selective system that works toward the elimination of conscience from the race.

Pathogenic Effects of Conscience

The long-term disadvantage of an appeal to conscience should be enough to condemn it; but it has serious short-term disadvantages as well. If we ask a man who is exploiting a commons to desist "in the name of conscience," what are we saying to him? What does he hear? -- not only at the moment but also in the wee small hours of the night when, half asleep, he remembers not merely the words we used but also the nonverbal communication cues we gave him unawares? Sooner or later, consciously or subconsciously, he senses that he has received two communications, and that they are contradictory: 1. (intended communication) "If you don't do as we ask, we will openly condemn you for not acting like a responsible citizen"; 2. (the unintended communication) "If you do behave as we ask, we will secretly condemn you for a simpleton who can be shamed into standing aside while the rest of us exploit the commons."

Every man then is caught in what Bateson has called a "double bind." Bateson and his co-workers have made a plausible case for viewing the double bind as an important causative factor in the genesis of schizophrenia. [17] The double bind may not always be so damaging, but it always endangers the mental health of anyone to whom it is applied. "A bad conscience," said Nietzsche, "is a kind of illness."

To conjure up a conscience in others is tempting to anyone who wishes to extend his control beyond the legal limits. Leaders at the highest level succumb to this temptation. Has any president during the past generation failed to call on labor unions to moderate voluntarily their demands for higher wages, or to steel companies to honor voluntary guidelines on prices? I can recall none. The rhetoric used on such occasions is designed to produce feelings of guilt in noncooperators.

For centuries it was assumed without proof that guilt was a valuable, perhaps even an indispensable, ingredient of the civilized life. Now, in this post-Freudian world, we doubt it.

Paul Goodman speaks from the modern point of view when he says: "No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties.'' [18]

One does not have to be a professional psychiatrist to see the consequences of anxiety. We in the Western world are just emerging from a dreadful two centuries-long Dark Ages of Eros that was sustained partly by prohibition laws, but perhaps more effectively by the anxiety-generating mechanisms of education. Alex Comfort has told the story well in The Anxiety Makers; [19] it is not a pretty one.

Since proof is difficult, we may even concede that the results of anxiety may sometimes, from certain points of view, be desirable. The larger question we should ask is whether, as a matter of policy, we should ever encourage the use of a technique the tendency (if not the intention) of which is psychologically pathogenic. We hear much talk these days of responsible parenthood; the coupled words are incorporated into the titles of some organizations devoted to birth control. Some people have proposed massive propaganda campaigns to instill responsibility into the nation's (or the world's) breeders. But what is the meaning of the word conscience? When we use the word responsibility in the absence of substantial sanctions are we not trying to browbeat a free man in a commons into acting against his own interest? Responsibility is a verbal counterfeit for a substantial quid pro quo. It is an attempt to get something for nothing.

If the word responsibility is to be used at all, I suggest that it be in the sense Charles Frankel uses it. [20] "Responsibility," says this philosopher, "is the product of definite social arrangements." Notice that Frankel calls for social arrangements -- not propaganda.

Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon

The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion, of some sort. Consider bank robbing. The man who takes money from a bank acts as if the bank were a commons. How do we prevent such action? Certainly not by trying to control his behavior solely by a verbal appeal to his sense of responsibility. Rather than rely on propaganda we follow Frankel's lead and insist that a bank is not a commons; we seek the definite social arrangements that will keep it from becoming a commons. That we thereby infringe on the freedom of would-be robbers we neither deny nor regret.

The morality of bank robbing is particularly easy to understand because we accept complete prohibition of this activity. We are willing to say "Thou shalt not rob banks," without providing for exceptions. But temperance also can be created by coercion. Taxing is a good coercive device. To keep downtown shoppers temperate in their use of parking space we introduce parking meters for short periods, and traffic fines for longer ones. We need not actually forbid a citizen to park as long as he wants to; we need merely make it increasingly expensive for him to do so. Not prohibition, but carefully biased options are what we offer him. A Madison Avenue man might call this persuasion; I prefer the greater candor of the word coercion.

Coercion is a dirty word to most liberals now, but it need not forever be so. As with the four-letter words, its dirtiness can be cleansed away by exposure to the light, by saying it over and over without apology or embarrassment. To many, the word coercion implies arbitrary decisions of distant and irresponsible bureaucrats; but this is not a necessary part of its meaning. The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.

To say that we mutually agree to coercion is not to say that we are required to enjoy it, or even to pretend we enjoy it. Who enjoys taxes? We all grumble about them. But we accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless. We institute and (grumblingly) support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons.

An alternative to the commons need not be perfectly just to be preferable. With real estate and other material goods, the alternative we have chosen is the institution of private property coupled with legal inheritance. Is this system perfectly just? As a genetically trained biologist I deny that it is. It seems to me that, if there are to be differences in individual inheritance, legal possession should be perfectly correlated with biological inheritance-that those who are biologically more fit to be the custodians of property and power should legally inherit more. But genetic recombination continually makes a mockery of the doctrine of "like father, like son" implicit in our laws of legal inheritance. An idiot can inherit millions, and a trust fund can keep his estate intact. We must admit that our legal system of private property plus inheritance is unjust -- but we put up with it because we are not convinced, at the moment, that anyone has invented a better system. The alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate. Injustice is preferable to total ruin.

It is one of the peculiarities of the warfare between reform and the status quo that it is thoughtlessly governed by a double standard. Whenever a reform measure is proposed it is often defeated when its opponents triumphantly discover a flaw in it. As Kingsley Davis has pointed out, [21] worshipers of the status quo sometimes imply that no reform is possible without unanimous agreement, an implication contrary to historical fact. As nearly as I can make out, automatic rejection of proposed reforms is based on one of two unconscious assumptions: (1) that the status quo is perfect; or (2) that the choice we face is between reform and no action; if the proposed reform is imperfect, we presumably should take no action at all, while we wait for a perfect proposal.

But we can never do nothing. That which we have done for thousands of years is also action. It also produces evils. Once we are aware that the status quo is action, we can then compare its discoverable advantages and disadvantages with the predicted advantages and disadvantages of the proposed reform, discounting as best we can for our lack of experience. On the basis of such a comparison, we can make a rational decision which will not involve the unworkable assumption that only perfect systems are tolerable.

Recognition of Necessity

Perhaps the simplest summary of this analysis of man's population problems is this: the commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low-population density. As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.

First we abandoned the commons in food gathering, enclosing farm land and restricting pastures and hunting and fishing areas. These restrictions are still not complete throughout the world.

Somewhat later we saw that the commons as a place for waste disposal would also have to be abandoned. Restrictions on the disposal of domestic sewage are widely accepted in the Western world; we are still struggling to close the commons to pollution by automobiles, factories, insecticide sprayers, fertilizing operations, and atomic energy installations.

In a still more embryonic state is our recognition of the evils of the commons in matters of pleasure. There is almost no restriction on the propagation of sound waves in the public medium. The shopping public is assaulted with mindless music, without its consent. Our government has paid out billions of dollars to create a supersonic transport which would disturb 50,000 people for every one person whisked from coast to coast 3 hours faster. Advertisers muddy the airwaves of radio and television and pollute the view of travelers. We are a long way from outlawing the commons in matters of pleasure. Is this because our Puritan inheritance makes us view pleasure as something of a sin, and pain (that is, the pollution of advertising) as the sign of virtue?

Every new enclosure of the commons involves the infringement of somebody's personal liberty. Infringements made in the distant past are accepted because no contemporary complains of a loss. It is the newly proposed infringements that we vigorously oppose; cries of "rights" and "freedom" fill the air. But what does "freedom" mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals. I believe it was Hegel who said, "Freedom is the recognition of necessity."

The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all. At the moment, to avoid hard decisions many of us are tempted to propagandize for conscience and responsible parenthood. The temptation must be resisted, because an appeal to independently acting consciences selects for the disappearance of all conscience in the long run, and an increase in anxiety in the short.

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. "Freedom is the recognition of necessity" -- and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.


1. J. B. Wiesner and H. F. York, Scientific American 211 (No. 4), 27 (1964).

2. G. Hardin, Journal of Heredity 50, 68 (1959), S. von Hoernor, Science 137, 18, (1962).

3. J. von Neumann and O. Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1947), p. 11.

4. J. H. Fremlin, New Scientist, No. 415 (1964), p. 285.

5. A. Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Modern Library, New York, 1937), p. 423.

6. W. F. Lloyd, Two Lectures on the Checks to Population (Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 1833).

7. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Mentor, New York, 1948), p. 17.

8. G. Hardin, Ed., Population, Evolution, and Birth Control (Freeman, San Francisco, 1964), p. 56.

9. S. McVay, Scientific American 216 (No. 8), 13 (1966).

10. J. Fletcher, Situation Ethics (Westminster, Philadelphia, 1966).

11. D. Lack, The Natural Regulation of Animal Numbers (Clarendon Press, Oxford, England, 1954).

12. H. Girvetz, From Wealth to Welfare (Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif, 1950).

13. G. Hardin, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 6, 366 (1963).

14. U Thant, International Planned Parenthood News, No. 168 (February 1968), p. 3.

15. K. Davis, Science 158, 730 (1967).

16. S. Tax, Ed., Evolution After Darwin (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1960), vol. 2, p. 469.

17. G. Bateson, D. D. Jackson, J. Haley, J. Weakland, Behavioral Science 1, 251 (1956).

18. P. Goodman, New York Review of Books 10 (8), 22 (23 May 1968).

19. A. Comfort, The Anxiety Makers (Nelson, London, 1967).

20. C. Frankel, The Case for Modern Man (Harper & Row, New York, 1955), p. 203.

21. J. D. Roslansky, Genetics and the Future of Man (Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1966), p. 177.


by Beryl Crowe (1969)
by Garrett Hardin and John Baden
W.H. Freeman, 1977; ISBN 0-7167-0476-5
"There has developed in the contemporary natural sciences a recognition that there is a subset of problems, such as population, atomic war, and environmental corruption, for which there are no technical solutions.

"There is also an increasing recognition among contemporary social scientists that there is a subset of problems, such as population, atomic war, environmental corruption, and the recovery of a livable urban environment, for which there are no current political solutions. The thesis of this article is that the common area shared by these two subsets contains most of the critical problems that threaten the very existence of contemporary man." [p. 53]

"In passing the technically insoluble problems over to the political and social realm for solution, Hardin made three critical assumptions:

(1) that there exists, or can be developed, a 'criterion of judgment and system of weighting . . .' that will 'render the incommensurables . . . commensurable . . . ' in real life;

(2) that, possessing this criterion of judgment, 'coercion can be mutually agreed upon,' and that the application of coercion to effect a solution to problems will be effective in modern society; and

(3) that the administrative system, supported by the criterion of judgment and access to coercion, can and will protect the commons from further desecration." [p. 55]


"In America there existed, until very recently, a set of conditions which perhaps made the solution to Hardin's subset possible; we lived with the myth that we were 'one people, indivisible. . . .' This myth postulated that we were the great 'melting pot' of the world wherein the diverse cultural ores of Europe were poured into the crucible of the frontier experience to produce a new alloy -- an American civilization. This new civilization was presumably united by a common value system that was democratic, equalitarian, and existing under universally enforceable rules contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

"In the United States today, however, there is emerging a new set of behavior patterns which suggest that the myth is either dead or dying. Instead of believing and behaving in accordance with the myth, large sectors of the population are developing life-styles and value hierarchies that give contemporary Americans an appearance more closely analogous to the particularistic, primitive forms of 'tribal' organizations in geographic proximity than to that shining new alloy, the American civilization." [p. 56]

"Looking at a more recent analysis of the sickness of the core city, Wallace F. Smith has argued that the productive model of the city is no longer viable for the purposes of economic analysis. Instead, he develops a model of the city as a site for leisure consumption, and then seems to suggest that the nature of this model is such is such that the city cannot regain its health because the leisure demands are value-based and, hence do not admit to compromise and accommodation; consequently there is no way of deciding among these value- oriented demands that are being made on the core city.

"In looking for the cause of the erosion of the myth of a common value system, it seems to me that so long as our perceptions and knowledge of other groups were formed largely through the written media of communication, the American myth that we were a giant melting pot of equalitarians could be sustained. In such a perceptual field it is tenable, if not obvious, that men are motivated by interests. Interests can always be compromised and accommodated without undermining our very being by sacrificing values. Under the impact of electronic media, however, this psychological distance has broken down and now we discover that these people with whom we could formerly compromise on interests are not, after all, really motivated by interests but by values. Their behavior in our very living room betrays a set of values, moreover, that are incompatible with our own, and consequently the compromises that we make are not those of contract but of culture. While the former are acceptable, any form of compromise on the latter is not a form of rational behavior but is rather a clear case of either apostasy or heresy. Thus we have arrived not at an age of accommodation but one of confrontation. In such an age 'incommensurables' remain 'incommensurable' in real life." [p. 59]

"In the past, those who no longer subscribed to the values of the dominant culture were held in check by the myth that the state possessed a monopoly on coercive force. This myth has undergone continual erosion since the end of World War II owing to the success of the strategy of guerrilla warfare, as first revealed to the French in Indochina, and later conclusively demonstrated in Algeria. Suffering as we do from what Senator Fulbright has called 'the arrogance of power,' we have been extremely slow to learn the lesson in Vietnam, although we now realize that war is political and cannot be won by military means. It is apparent that the myth of the monopoly of coercive force as it was first qualified in the civil rights conflict in the South, then in our urban ghettos, next on the streets of Chicago, and now on our college campuses has lost its hold over the minds of Americans. The technology of guerrilla warfare has made it evident that, while the state can win battles, it cannot win wars of values. Coercive force which is centered in the modern state cannot be sustained in the face of the active resistance of some 10 percent of the population unless the state is willing to embark on a deliberate policy of genocide directed against the value dissident groups. The factor that sustained the myth of coercive force in the past was the acceptance of a common value system. Whether the latter exists is questionable in the modern nation-state." [p.p. 59-60]

"Indeed, the process has been so widely commented upon that one writer postulated a common life cycle for all of the attempts to develop regulatory policies. The life cycle is launched by an outcry so widespread and demanding that it generates enough political force to bring about establishment of a regulatory agency to insure the equitable, just, and rational distribution of the advantages among all holders of interest in the commons. This phase is followed by the symbolic reassurance of the offended as the agency goes into operation, developing a period of political quiescence among the great majority of those who hold a general but unorganized interest in the commons. Once this political quiescence has developed, the highly organized and specifically interested groups who wish to make incursions into the commons bring sufficient pressure to bear through other political processes to convert the agency to the protection and furthering of their interests. In the last phase even staffing of the regulating agency is accomplished by drawing the agency administrators from the ranks of the regulated." [p.p. 60-61]


Monday, September 25, 2006

Thriving in the Age of Collapse, Part I

by Dmitry Orlov

A while ago Matt Savinar proposed that I write an article that specifically addresses the situations and concerns of some of the visitors to his Web site. He was also kind enough to provide me with three profiles, each of which is a composite of many people. One profile is of a young professional, another is of a middle-aged couple, and a third is of a high school student. My task was to adapt my knowledge of the circumstances in which people in Russia found themselves after the Soviet economy collapsed to the needs of diverse people in the United States. This I have tried to do. Keep in mind, however, that these are not real people, and that although I sometimes offer them detailed advice on subjects such as education, law, finance, and medicine, I do not practice any of these professions, and what I express here is mere opinion.

My premise is that the U.S. economy is going to collapse, that this process has already begun, and will run its course over a decade or more, with ups and downs here and there, but a consistent overall downward direction. I neither prognosticate nor wish for such an outcome; I just happen to see it as very likely. Furthermore, I do not see it as altogether bad. There are some terrible aspects to the current state of affairs, and some wonderful aspects to the post-collapse environment. For example, the air will be much cleaner, there will be no traffic jams, and people will have plenty of time to devote to their children and to people within their immediate community. Wildlife will rebound. Local culture will make a comeback. People will get plenty of exercise walking around, carrying things, and performing manual labor. They will eat smaller and healthier diets. I could go on and on, but that is not the point.

Since such a scenario might seem outlandish to some people, I would like to sketch out why I find it entirely plausible. There is an ever-increasing amount of mainstream media attention being paid to the looming energy crisis. At this point, very few people still argue that there is not a problem with the energy supply, immediately for natural gas, eventually for oil. There is also a viewpoint, which is ever more closely and persuasively argued, that what we have to look forward to is a permanent energy shortfall, which will cause economic and societal dislocations that will be monumental in scope, and will transform the patterns of everyday life. The current, consumer-friendly economy would be no more, replaced with a subsistence economy characterized by a good deal of privation and austerity.

This viewpoint is usually served up under the rubric of “Peak Oil” - the all-time global peak in the rate of extraction of conventional crude oil. The connection between the inability to goose up oil production beyond some already icecap-melting number, and the immediate trotting out of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, is not immediately obvious. But apparently the U.S. economy is a sort of pyramid scheme, based on nothing more than faith in its growth potential, and can only continue to exist while it continues to expand, by sucking in ever more resources, particularly energy. Even a small energy shortage is enough to undermine it. So Peak Oil is hardly the problem – it is the foolish notion that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is possible. Collapse can be triggered when any one of many other physical limits is exceeded - drinkable water, breathable air, arable land, and so on – and so the limit to sustained oil production is only one of many physical limits to growth.

I do not feel the need to argue for the inevitability of a permanent energy crisis, not only because others have already done so quite persuasively, but also because it involves arguing with people who do little more than shout slogans. The slogans that are heard most often range from the simplistic “There is plenty of oil!” to the ideologically hidebound “The free market will provide!” to the somewhat more nuanced but technologically implausible “Technology will provide!” to the perennially hopeful but unrealistic “Other sources of energy will be found!” There is even the refreshingly irrational “People have said that oil would run out before, and they were wrong!” repeated endlessly by Daniel Yergin, an oil historian who believes that history repeats itself endlessly, even the history of nonrenewable resource extraction. Facile notions of this sort will remain popular for some time yet, but I feel that it is already quite safe to start ignoring them.

It bears pointing out that most of us would prefer to remain blissfully unaware of any and all such arguments and notions, perhaps choosing to concern ourselves with topics less likely to depress our libido. Awareness of topics of global import is certainly not compulsory, and may not even be beneficial. Why worry about disasters we can do nothing to avert? Why not just enjoy our day in the sun, come what may? Also, large groups of people can be dangerous when panicked, and so I do not wish to panic them.

As for the few of us who are concerned, my message to you is a cheerful one, because I believe that you can still exercise some measure of control over your destiny. So, if you want some help thinking things through with a positive attitude, read on. If not, do not concern yourself unduly. Instead of reading this, you could lift your spirits by going for a drive, or going shopping, or taking a nap. Rest assured that these are all good things for you to do, the nap especially. Rather than you being menaced by some issue of global importance, any number of other unpleasant eventualities could bring about your untimely demise, on which you should likewise refrain from dwelling morbidly. Your participation in this program is optional.

The first step in this program is admitting that what is looming on your horizon is economic collapse – that the economy, as you are used to thinking about it, will cease to serve your needs. You will not hear about it on the evening news, and there will be no signs in shop windows that read “Out of business due to economic collapse.” The traditional array of experts will be on hand, claiming that prosperity is just around the corner, and offering this or that short-term fix, which, for all we know, might even work for a little while.

An economy collapses one person, one family, one community at a time. First, the dreams evaporate: the future starts looking worse than the present, and ever more uncertain. Then people are forced to withstand ever greater indignities and privations, which they tend to accept as their personal failings. The resulting stress causes them to experience a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. Our pride, our habits and expectations, and our unwillingness to adapt, can kill us faster than any physical hardship. But eventually something has to give, and even if life does not get any easier, one morning we wake up, and not only has life all around us been transformed out of all recognition, but everyone we encounter recognizes that times have changed. And we realize that none of this is about us personally, and feel better.

I feel qualified to write on this subject because I had the opportunity to observe an economic collapse firsthand. I did some of my growing up in the Soviet Union, and the rest in the United States. I have visited Russia repeatedly, on personal trips and on business, during the years of Perestroika, the ensuing collapse, and the lean years of the 1990s. I feel equally at home, or, on occasion, lost, in both places. Unlike most Russian émigrés who witnessed the collapse, I was fascinated rather than traumatized by my experiences there, and have not tried to blot them out of my memory, as many of them have. Also unlike most émigrés, I know quite a lot about the United States, its society and its economy, see its fateful weaknesses, and care about what happens here. When peering apprehensively into the unknown, it is useful to have as your guide someone who has already been there. Since no such guide is available, you will have to make do with someone who has been someplace vaguely similar.


The main use of oil in the United States is for transportation. Once the crisis gets underway, there will be much less transportation available, of goods as well as of people, at any price, exacerbated by the lack of public transportation infrastructure. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product turns out to be almost strictly proportional the number of vehicle miles traveled, and this implies that large reductions in the availability of transportation will translate into similar-sized reductions in the size of the economy overall. A few years on, roads and bridges will start falling into disrepair, making travel slow and difficult even when enough fuel for the trip can be found. People will be forced to stay put most of the time, perhaps making seasonal migrations, and to make use of what they have available in the immediate vicinity.

To see what that will be like for you, all you have to do is to give up driving; not cut down on driving, but sell your car, and refuse to ride in one on a regular basis. If this forces you relocate, or to switch jobs or careers, you should probably do so now. You will be forced to do so, when everyone else tries to do it at the same time. I sold my car a few years ago, and my life got better, not worse. Now I work within bicycling distance from home. I am physically fit because I ride for at least an hour a day, and I am saving more money than I was before because I do not have the expense of keeping a car. If you have children that ride the school bus to school, assume that the school bus will not run any more. You might be able to work out a home schooling arrangement, or find another school closer to home that the kids can walk or bicycle to.

Food and Clothing

Consumer society, as it currently exists in the United States, is propped up by the still relatively cheap and accessible energy, and by the fact that the Chinese, and other nations, are still willing to dispense goods to us on credit. This credit is secured by the promise of future economic growth in the United States, which is already being whittled down by the high energy prices. Thus, the energy crisis will in due course translate into a consumer goods crisis.

Therefore, as part of your exercise, assume that every supermarket and big box store is out of business, driven bankrupt by the high cost (and low availability) of diesel, electricity, and natural gas. Shop only at the local farmer's markets, small neighborhood groceries, and thrift stores. Buy as few new things as possible: trash-pick what you can, and repair items instead of replacing them. Learn to grow or gather at least some of your food. If you do not wish to go strictly vegetarian, raising chickens and rabbits is not so hard. To buy staples such as rice, travel into town and buy them in bulk from small immigrant-owned groceries – you can be sure that these will be around even after the supermarkets are gone.


If your lease or mortgage requires you to have a full-time job in order to afford it, find a way to change your living situation to one that you can keep even when there is no more work. If you can cash out your equity and buy a place that is smaller, but that you can own free and clear, do so.

Pay particular attention to how difficult a place will be to heat; do not assume that heating oil, natural gas, or large quantities of firewood will be available or affordable. Also, pay very close attention to the neighbors. Are they people you know and trust? Will they help you? Do not assume that there will be police protection or emergency services. If you live in an area with a history of ethnic strife, how sure are you that you will be able to find a common language and make peace with everyone there, even people whose culture and background are vastly different from yours?

Know where to escape to in case your primary residence becomes unlivable, either permanently or for a time. Your arrangements might be as simple as a friend's couch, or a campsite that you rent by the season, or some land where you know you can camp, or an unused farm, ranging all the way to an alternative residence somewhere else in the world that you can relocate to.


If you have or foresee significant ongoing medical needs, staying in the United States will pose a unique set of problems; you might even consider seeking refuge in one of the many countries that provide free basic and emergency medical care to their entire population. The United States is a very special case in having made basic medicine into a profit-making industry rather than a social service. The medical system here has become a parasite, bloated and ineffectual. The doctors are saddled with unreasonable regulations and financial liabilities.

When it comes to medicine, almost any country in the world will be better than one that is full-up with unemployed medical specialists, insurance consultants, and medical billing experts. In Belize, which is quite a poor country, I received prompt and excellent free emergency medical care from a Cuban medic. In the U.S., in similar circumstances, I had to wait 8 hours at an emergency room, then was seen for five minutes by a sleep-deprived intern who scribbled out a prescription for something that is available without a prescription almost everywhere else in the world. Then there ensued a paper battle between the hospital and the insurance company, lasting for many months, over whether the hospital could charge for a doctor's visit on top of the emergency room visit. Apparently, in U.S. emergency rooms, doctors are optional.

There are specific steps you may be able to take to avoid having to depend on the medical system. Do whatever you can to be in good health, by getting enough sleep and exercise, and by avoiding unnecessary stress. Avoid processed food and junk food. If you do not feel well, get plenty of rest, instead of medicating yourself and attempting to keep to your schedule. Unless your life is in danger, try to do without maintenance regimens of prescription drugs, keeping in mind what will happen when you lose access to them. Be sure to have a living will that allows your family to have control of your medical care. Look for alternative medicines for symptomatic relief of minor complaints.


For several decades now, the U.S. Dollar has been able to keep its value in the face of ever larger trade and fiscal imbalances largely because it is the currency most of the world uses when buying oil. Other nations are forced to export products to the United States because this is the only way for them to gather the dollars they need to purchase oil. This has produced a continuous windfall for the U.S. Treasury. This state of affairs is coming to an end: as more and more oil-producing nations find alternative ways of doing business with their customers, trading oil for Euros, or for food, the U.S. Dollar erodes in value. As the Dollar drops in value, the price of an ever-increasing list of essential imports goes up, driving up inflation. At some point, inflation will start to feed on itself, and will give rise to hyperinflation.

If your immediate thought is, “Hyperinflation in the U.S.? Impossible!” then you are not alone. A lot of people have trouble thinking about the possibility of hyperinflation, economists among them. Hyperinflation, they say, requires the government to emit vast amounts of money, which, being a good, prudent government, it simply will not do. But this government is drowning in red ink, and will do what desperate governments have always done: opt for inflating its debt away rather than defaulting on it, to retain at least some spending ability in the face of a collapsing tax base and dried-up foreign credit. The people at the Fed do have to be kept fed, after all.

Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Fed, has voiced the viewpoint that since oil expenditure is such a small percentage of the overall economy, increased oil prices will have little effect on it, and, of course, he is right. I am, however, still a bit concerned about lower overall quantities of oil, regardless of the price, because these would result in less economic activity. What I would like Mr. Greenspan to reassure me on is, How is a small national economy going to be able to support a big national debt? By the way, I have an idea: print some money.

Others who doubt the inevitability of hyperinflation point to the weakness of trade unions, and say that workers in the U.S. are too badly organized to bargain collectively and secure cost of living adjustments that would propel the economy along an inflationary spiral. These people seem to feel that the workers will somehow continue to be able to work even as their entire paycheck disappears as they buy gasoline for their daily commute. They remind me of the proverbial farmer who trained his horse to stop eating, and almost succeeded, but unfortunately the horse died first. Those who have work that needs to be done will have to make it physically possible for someone to do it.

There are also plenty of people in this country – the ones who are closer the top of the economic food chain, or just feel like they are – who will pay themselves whatever they require, giving themselves, and those upon whose loyalty they must depend, any cost of living adjustment they deem necessary. They will continue doing so until they are bankrupt. Because wealth is distributed so unevenly, these people make a disproportionately large difference.

Lastly, there is a large group of people who feel that such matters are for economists to decide. But decide for yourself: in March of 1999, The Economist magazine ran an article entitled “Drowning in Oil.” In December of the same year, it was compelled to publish a retraction. Economists are starting to look a bit ridiculous, as their predictive abilities are repeatedly shown to be quite feeble. Moreover, the whole discipline of economics is starting to become irrelevant, because its main concern is with characterizing a system – the fossil fuel-based growth economy – which is starting to collapse.

Perhaps the difficulty in reconciling oneself to such a possibility stems from history and culture, not economics. Unlike the Russians or the Germans, whose historical memory includes one or more episodes of hyperinflation, it is hard for Americans to imagine living in a time when their paper money is not worth its weight in toilet paper. But such conditions have been known to occur. Savings boil off into the ether. People who still receive paychecks or retirement checks cash them immediately, and do their best to buy the things they need to survive as quickly as they can, before the prices go up again.

There are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for life without money. For a time, you might not have an income at all, or an income so meager it will not be enough for even one meal a day, so find out just how little money you need to stay active and healthy. Learn to rely on family, friends, and acquaintances. Find out what you can take from them, and what you have to offer in return.

Perhaps most importantly, assume that your retirement income, whether government or private, will in due course become quite close to zero, and make some other arrangements for your old age. If you have children, start buttering them up now – you will need their help to survive in your dotage. If you do not have children, then think about having some, or adopting one or two. If you do not have or want children, then be sure to have some good friends who are younger than you.

For each economic arrangement involving money, try to come up with an alternative arrangement that does not involve money. For example, if you pay a baby-sitter, try to find a baby-sitter who is willing to work in exchange for lessons. If you pay rent, find a caretaker situation where you pay with your labor. If you pay for food, start growing your own food.

As you are learning to live with less and less money, you will inevitably find that the money system works to your disadvantage. If you have debt, it becomes harder and harder to make the payments. If you own property, it becomes harder and harder to afford the taxes. The money system takes a bite out of everything you do. But this is true only if your economic relationships are monetized – if they have monetary value and involve the exchange of money. As you try to reduce your dependence on the money economy, you will need to invent ways to demonetize your life, and that of the people around you.

Savings and personal property can be transformed into the stock in trade of human relationships, which then give rise to reciprocal flows of gifts and favors – efficient, private, and customized to personal needs. This requires a completely different mindset from that cultivated by the consumer society, which strives to standardize and reduce everything, including human relationships, to a client-server paradigm, in which money flows in one direction, while products and services flow in the opposite direction. Customer A gets the same thing as customer B, for the same price.

This is very inefficient from a personal perspective. Resources are squandered on new products whereas reused ones can work just as well. Everyone is forced to make do with mediocre, off-the-shelf products that are designed for planned obsolescence and do not suit them as well as one crafted to suit their specific needs. A commodity product can be manufactured on the opposite side of the planet, whereas a custom one is likely to be made locally, providing work for you and the people in your community. But this is also very efficient, from the point of view of extracting profits and concentrating wealth while depleting natural resources and destroying the environment. However, this is not the sort of efficiency you should be concerned with: it is not in your interest.

This, then, is the correct stance vis à vis the money economy. You should appear to have no money or significant possessions. But you should have access to resources, such as food, clothing, medicine, places to stay and work, and even money. What you do with your money is up to you. For example, you can simply misplace it, the way squirrels do with nuts and acorns. Or you can convert it into communal property of one sort or another. You should avoid getting paid, but you should accept gifts, and, of course, give gifts in return. You should never work for money, but always donate your time and effort charitably. You should have a minimum of personal possessions, but plenty to share with others. Developing such a stance is hard, but, once you do, life actually gets better. Moreover, by adopting such a stance, you become collapse-proof.


The American justice system favors the educated, the corporations, and the rich, and takes unfair advantage of the uneducated, the private citizen, and the poor. It would seem that almost any legal entanglement can be resolved through the judicious application of money, while almost any tussle with the law can result in financial penalties and even imprisonment for those who are forced to rely on public defenders.

Many people naïvely believe that a criminal is someone who commits a criminal act. This is not true, at least not in the American system of justice. Here, a criminal is someone who has been accused of committing a criminal act, tried for it, and found guilty. Whether or not that person has in fact committed the act is immaterial: witnesses may lie, evidence can be fabricated, juries can be manipulated. A person who has committed a criminal act but has not been tried for it, or has been tried and exonerated, is not a criminal, and for anyone to call him a criminal is libelous.

It therefore follows that, within the American justice system, committing a crime and getting away with it is substantially identical to not committing a crime at all. Wealthy clients have lawyers who are constantly testing and, whenever possible, expanding the bounds of legality. Corporations have entire armies of lawyers, and can almost always win against individuals. Furthermore, corporations use their political influence to promote the use of binding arbitration, which favors them, as the way to resolve disputes.

This state of affairs makes it hopelessly naïve for anyone to confuse legality with morality, ethics, or justice. You should always behave in a legal manner, but this will not necessarily save you from going to jail. In what manner you choose to behave legally is between you and your conscience, God, or lawyer, if you happen to have one, and may or may not have anything to do with obeying laws. Legality is a property of the justice system, while justice is an ancient virtue. This distinction is lost on very few people: most people possess a sense of justice, and, separate from it, an understanding of what is legal, and what they they can get away with.

The U.S. legal system, as it stands, is a luxury, not a necessity. It is good to those who can afford it, and bad for those who cannot. As ever-increasing numbers of people find that they cannot pay what it takes to secure a good outcome for themselves, they will start to see it not as a system of justice, but as a tool of oppression, and will learn to avoid it rather than to look to it for help. As oppression becomes the norm, at some point the pretense to serving justice will be dispensed with in favor of a much simpler, efficient, streamlined system of social control, perhaps one based on martial law.

People have been known to get along quite happily without written law, lawyers, courts, or jails. Societies always evolve an idea of what is forbidden, and find ways to punish those who transgress. In the absence of an official system of justice, people generally become much more careful around each other, because running afoul of someone may lead to a duel or give rise to a vendetta, and because, in the absence of jails, punishments tend become draconian, coming to include dispossession, banishment, and even death, which are all intended to deter and to neutralize rather than to punish. When disputes do arise, lay mediators or councils may be appealed to, to help resolve them.

The transition to a lower-energy system of jurisprudence will no doubt be quite tumultuous, but there is something we can be sure of: many laws will become unenforceable at its very outset. This development, given our definition of what is criminal, will de facto decriminalize many types of behavior, opening new, relatively safe avenues of legal behavior for multitudes of people, creating new opportunities for the wise, and further tempting the evil and the foolish.

As a safety precaution, you might want to distance yourself from the legal system, and, to the extent that this is possible, find your own justice. As an exercise, examine each of your relationships that is based on a contract, lease, deed, license, promissory note, or other legal instrument, and look for ways to replace it with relationships that are based on trust, mutual respect, and common interest. Think of ways to make these relationships work within the context of friendships and familial ties.

To protect yourself from getting savaged by the justice system as it degenerates into oppression, try to weave a thick web of informal interdependency all around you, where any conflict or disagreement can be extinguished by drawing in more and more interested parties, all of them eager to resolve it peaceably, and none of them willing to let it escalate beyond their midst. Struggle for impartiality when attempting to mediate disputes, and be guided by your wisdom and your sense of justice rather than by laws, rules, or precedents, which offer poor guidance in changing times.

Coming Next Week: Part II, Dmitry's advice to young professionals and aging baby boomers.

Thriving in the Age of Collapse, Part II:
What Can Young Professionals and Aging Baby Boomers do to Prepare for America's Collapse?

By Dmitry Orlov

(Editor's Note: Part I of this article is available here. Dmitry Orlov lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this installment he offers his advice on how young professionals ("yuppies") and aging baby boomers can prepare for America's collapse. -Matt)


The first personal profile I will consider is of "Chris", a professional in his twenties, who lives in a large urban area in the Pacific Northwest. Chris earns some $60,000 to $90,000 a year, contributes to his employer's 401-k program, and carries massive student debt. Thankfully, he is in good health. Among his many marketable skills, none are directly applicable to an energy-scarce environment. He is a fantastic bore at parties, compulsively attempting to hold forth on the subject of resource depletion and economic collapse, and, needless to say, his parents, friends, and fiancée do not wish to hear any more about it, but love him just the same. Being uncertain of the future, he rents. Chris is a regular North American workaholic, working 50 to 60 hours a week. Chris had never given politics, oil, or the looming economic collapse much thought, until somebody handed him a copy of Mike Ruppert's book, but now he is a true believer.

As a young professional, Chris may be able to continue in his current profession, or shift to another one, to avoid dead-end career paths, and to position himself in one of the professions that is sure to see substantial growth. Clearly, many professions do not hold much promise. For example, the demand for lawyers, plastic surgeons, psychiatrists, and financial advisers will drop, because ever fewer middle-class people will require or be able to afford their services. Likewise, jobs in sales and marketing are likely to dwindle. Other professions, such as repossession, auctioneers, and undertakers, will still be very much in demand, for a time. Whether or not Chris decides to switch professions, he should choose something lucrative, work hard for a while, save up money, and get out. There is no sense in diving into these murky waters except to make a bundle, or in exposing his wealth if he manages to accumulate any. Endlessly running on a treadmill, as so many people do today, will no longer be a viable option.

Serve Your Country

If Chris finds that he needs to switch professions, and wants to remain within the official economy, then he may decide to transition into the area of government contracting, availing himself of the ample opportunities presented by official corruption, graft, and politically sanctioned organized crime, which are sure to continue seeing substantial growth. There will be a great deal of government inventory of all sorts – from very expensive weapons systems to very expensive toilet seats – to be sold off, sometimes at a substantial profit. If Chris has the flair for international deal-making, then finding foreign buyers for liquidated U.S. government assets might be something he could ease his way into.

Although government work may be steady work for a time, it also involves following rules and regulations (or at least pretending to), toeing the line, turning a blind eye, and playing the politics. Also, it rarely provides the satisfaction of getting something useful accomplished. Unless Chris manages to position himself close to the top of the food chain, where billions in public money regularly go missing with hardly any questions asked, it is also not going to be particularly lucrative. Profiting from government corruption is a high-stakes game, with only the extremely well-connected admitted to the table.

If Chris feels that playing Catch-22 is not his style and decides against working for the government, another excellent growth area, right in the middle of the newly emerging food chain, is security. As the populace becomes increasingly distressed economically, all items of value will need to be kept out of view, or carefully guarded, preferably both. The first requirement in any middling-to-large transaction will be to provide security. An organization that can provide security in an unstable environment is thus well-positioned to branch out into a multitude of other services: warehousing, logistics, transportation, finance, and legal services.

Business Redux

Last but not least, Chris can avail himself of a role in the burgeoning cash economy, which will grow to encompass an ever greater list of products and services. Currently, unreported, cash-based activities in the U.S. fall into a number of distinct categories that encompass traditional crime. I do not recommend any of these niches, since they are already fully occupied, and a shrinking economy will make for a highly competitive environment. For the sake of completeness: there will always be gambling, prostitution, graft, and murder for hire. Another large category is illegal drugs and guns. Yet another revolves around smuggling people across borders, as well as providing them with cash-based employment once they arrive. Yet another is money-laundering, by moving cash through front businesses and into bank accounts. All of these are likely to see substantial growth, with the possible exception of money laundering: as the official economy becomes deemphasized, cash stockpiles are more likely to be traded for gold and other valuable commodities than to be entrusted to shaky financial institutions.

But there will be plenty of new niches opening up for Chris to choose among. Currently, the cash economy mostly involves services and products that cannot be obtained legally. In the future, it will expand to encompass necessities that are no longer available or affordable through official channels. The list will eventually grow to include transportation, food, security, shelter, and medicine. Thus, in trying to think about business trends of the future, Chris should first expand his definition of business. Conversely, in thinking about the future legal climate, he should reason from the point of view of what will be enforceable, and, if so, to whose financial benefit, because unenforceable or unprofitable legal strictures will be eagerly overlooked, as the entire legal framework falls into disuse.

House Calls

Black market medicine promises to be particularly interesting, although perhaps not particularly lucrative. The cash economy will inevitably come to include pharmaceuticals, which in the U.S. are overpriced and often not available over the counter, but which can be manufactured in underground laboratories, or purchased elsewhere in the world and imported in bulk. In addition, every year there are more and more people for whom Western medicine does not work, or works badly, and who are learning to avail themselves of the pharmacopeia of traditional medicine. Although there are some exotic ingredients used in traditional medicine, many medicinal herbs can be grown in most places, do not require complex cultivation, and are, in fact, weeds. Once Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry on which it depends enter a period of decline, it is likely that acceptance of traditional medicine will increase.

If black market pharmaceuticals may be somewhat lucrative, then what about black market medical practice? At some point it will come to include office visits, and even surgery, at first administered as “free care,” but if one wants a follow-up visit, then it would involve a “gift.” Currently, doctors in the U.S. are sandwiched between layers of lawyers, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospital administrators, all of whom require a profit in order to exist. Once there is no profit to be made by anyone, only the doctors will remain, because they (and nurses) are the only ones who are indispensable to the practice of medicine. They will once again start making house calls, and work for whatever they can get: a bit of cash, or even for food, or simply because they care about their patients and want to be helpful and respected. They would be well advised to become competent herbalists before their pharmaceutical supply dries up.

Quitting While Ahead

There will be plenty of professional opportunities for Chris to continue to make a good living, although he may have to switch professions in order to take advantage of them. In spite of this, Chris should not bet his life on his ability to find a place in the new economy, and should also make sure that he can sustain himself directly. It will be an uncertain environment, fraught with dangers and complications, and Chris should be prepared to make a hasty exit if circumstances turn against him.

Chris is in a good position to marshal his resources and make preparations for a soft landing for himself, and possibly for his family and friends as well. It is likely that he will meet new people and make new friends as he makes his preparations, and it may be that these new friendships will be more conducive to achieving this goal than his current ones.

Given his high income, Chris can quickly save up a considerable sum of money by living frugally. To achieve a high savings rate, he can downgrade his car to an old beater or give up driving altogether, move into a low-rent, ethnically and racially mixed neighborhood, avoid buying new things, trash-picking and buying used stuff instead, shed unnecessary possessions, avoid buying prepared or packaged food and only buy food fresh or in bulk, and avoid going out (entertaining friends at home, or visiting them, works just as well). With these measures in place, there is no reason why his personal saving rate should be anywhere below 75% of his net earnings.

By using some of his savings, and by cashing out his retirement accounts, Chris can put together a sizable sum with which to purchase some arable land with access to water, which he can own free and clear, and on which he can build a homestead. He should retain a reserve, preferably in gold, to be able to pay property taxes far into the future. He is young and in good health, and can learn the many new skills he will need to survive. He should learn and practice these skills before he needs to rely on them for survival: once he has built his homestead, he should try a “dry run,” spending an entire summer on his land, improving it, and growing food. This experience will teach him what he will need to stockpile, and what other preparations he will need to make.

The longer Chris waits to start making these preparations, the less effective they will be, because the purchasing power of his savings is likely to decrease over time due to inflation. If he waits until after the onset of financial meltdown to make his move, he may forfeit his savings altogether, and be unable to make any preparations. He would then find himself in the same sinking boat as everyone else, stuck where he is, or wherever the government evacuates him, dependent on dwindling government assistance and meager charity for survival.


Chris's biggest liability is his student debt. Student loans tend to be guaranteed by the federal government, which is not subject to the same legal limitations as other creditors. The government can ignore bankruptcy laws and homestead exemptions, and can seize any property. While fixed-rate loans are likely to be rendered irrelevant by inflation, variable-rate loans should be taken seriously. If it is not possible to pay them off, then his other option is to make plans to render himself indigent. This is not trivial, but quite possible to arrange. Since a post-collapse economy generally relies on unreported cash and barter transactions rather than reported, taxed ones, Chris should be able to live out his days in peace, flying under the radar.

Chris's biggest hindrance in making effective preparations is lack of time. It is impossible to carry out the necessary research, arrangements, and exercises while working 50-60 hours a week. There are many people in his situation, forced to concentrate on a career path that requires an inordinate level of effort, because it is predicated on perpetual career advancement rather than on making one's money quickly and getting out. But with just a change of mindset, Chris can become far more creative than the average workaholic in maximizing his short-term earnings while minimizing his effort. The effort should be allocated towards getting jobs that pay the most but require the least effort, and towards finding creative ways to avoid time-consuming tasks. With this new approach, Chris should be able to work no more than 35 hours a week, at a comparable level of compensation.

Just as it is usually better to quit than to be fired, it is better to drop out voluntarily, in stages, than to wait for one's career to end due to lack of prospects for continued employment. In a business climate where most companies' crystal balls are far from clear, it is much easer to secure temporary employment than a permanent position. Contract work may not appeal to somebody who is looking forward to a long and prosperous career, but it may be very well-suited to somebody who realizes that the entire economy is circling the drain.

I believe that lack of understanding from Chris's parents, friends, or significant other is not a serious problem. It is often hard to decide just how much effort to invest in trying to enlighten any given person, but a good rule of thumb is to only offer answers to those who ask questions. The answers should consist almost exclusively of references to the most authoritative sources of information available, rather than heated expressions of personal opinion. These may give rise to more detailed questions, and perhaps even some guarded admissions of doubt. Whether or not the people around him understand what is happening, they are sure to be most grateful if, when the time comes, Chris knows what to do, while everyone around is flailing about helplessly. On the other hand, if Chris expends effort on working his loved ones into a paroxysm of despair while remaining unprepared, he will not remain popular with them for very long.

The Middle Age

Next we consider the case of “Mike” and “Mary,” who are aging baby boomers. Their combined income is around $100,000 a year. Mary has worked as a teacher for most of her life, and expects to start receiving her pension soon. Mike has worked a succession of office jobs for most of his life, and is also nearing retirement. They have a mortgage on a suburban home, and own two cars. They had planned on paying it all off over the next decade or so, and living out their golden years just as they are. They have three children: two are out of college and on their own, one is in college, nearing graduation. Mike or Mary are in fairly good health, but both have minor medical conditions that require monitoring and small amounts of medication. Mary has some gardening skills. Mike is a bit of a handyman, and can fix things around the house.

They have known that this crisis was coming since the 1970s, but did not think it would come this fast, nor did they think that it would be so severe. They found out about it by reading James Kunstler's article in Rolling Stone, then doing some research on the Internet. None of their children has shown more than a passing interest in these issues.

Old Age in Turbulent Times

The older we get, the more ossified we tend to become in our ways of thought, our habits, and our expectations. We may be unhappy with many things about our world, but, as we age, our ability to embrace change decreases, until we find ourselves resigned to live out our days with the devil we know. Some old people are quite functional when they are within their element, but put them in an unfamiliar environment, and they become disoriented, unsure of themselves, slow to adapt, and deeply distressed.

When confronted with cataclysmic, irrevocable change, some old people rebel in a peculiar fashion. For many years after the Soviet collapse, one could see a certain type of old person in the streets: miserable, dispossessed, and protesting. Often they carried with them portraits of Lenin and Stalin, held high for all to see: these were the devils they knew. Perhaps in future years we will see baby boomers on the streets of U.S. cities, begging for food while displaying their treasured portrait of Ronald Reagan as if it were holy relic, or a lucky charm, hoping against all hope for a return to a former national greatness, stoically withstanding ridicule from everyone around them.

Even in less extreme cases, in disrupted, crisis-ridden times, older people run a huge risk of becoming alienated from younger people, on whom they depend for survival. Being fixed in their ideas of right and wrong, they tend to prejudge young people, who must survive in a world where the old rules and notions no longer apply. In a futile attempt to hold on to what they see as moral high ground, they make themselves into objects of pity at best, and indifference at worst.

The Human Life-cycle

Cheap energy and the short-term bloom of humanity it has fueled have given rise to some social arrangements that are not destined to survive the onset of permanent energy scarcity. One of these is the notion that a few young people will anonymously contribute a large part of their income for the welfare of many old people they have never met or even heard of.

In the days in which most of human history has transpired, parents took care of their children as their topmost priority in life. As with many other species, it was their biological imperative to do so; beyond that, most of them were conscious of the fact that if their children did not survive, neither would they: their genes, their memories, their culture, or anything about them would be erased by time. The care of children could be entrusted to family members, but never to complete strangers. The education of children took place largely in the home, through storytelling, shared labor, and through rites of passage. The elderly, and especially the grandparents, took an active part in rearing and educating children. It was they who watched and attended to young children throughout the day, and who inculcated in them much of the ancestral wisdom – the stories, the myths, and the practical knowledge – through ceaseless, tiresome repetition.

At the trailing edge of the fossil fuel age, where we find ourselves, prosperous society looks quite different. Both parents work dismal jobs, mostly away from home, in order to keep themselves out of bankruptcy. Those who prosper most attend to their careers with far greater attention than to their children, abandoning them to the care of strangers for the better part of most days. The grandparents live elsewhere, enjoying their golden years, the fruits of their labors encapsulated in some properties, some investments, and a merciful central government that has promised to at least keep them alive even if all else fails. They are living on artificial life support that is about to be shut off.

Once the joy-ride ends, human society will revert to norm, but many will suffer, and many lives will be cut short. The elderly will get a dose of their own toxic medicine. Adult children will take care of their helpless parents only inasmuch as their parents had taken care of them when they were young and helpless. Were they placed in day-care, sent off to a boarding school, or encouraged to join the military? Well then, institutional care for the elderly must be the perfect solution! (And no use complaining; when their children were three years old and complained, did they listen to them?) Were they made to work for their allowance, to learn the spirit of free enterprise at a young age? Well then, how do their parents expect to earn their keep when they are eighty? Shape up or ship out! These words will not necessarily be said out loud; but they will be felt, and lived.

What will make matters worse is that most of the children are humans-”lite” – deprived of the stories, the myths, and the trials that human children have been put through for the past few million years, minus a bizarre century or two – and so are gravely ill-equipped for life outside the artificial life support system. They are an industrial product: almost from birth, they are placed in an entirely artificial social context, where they are evaluated, classified, and shoved through a series of institutions, to be readied for a lifetime of service in a system whose feedstock is a commodity human product: Grade A human, marketable skills up-to-date, properly credentialed. Even if their parents and grandparents were intact and able to impart wisdom, their children had not been programmed to process that sort of information.

Forever Young?

When we are young, it is easy to embrace change, to adapt, to leave our past behind; not necessarily so as we get older. When it comes to flexibility and adaptability, there is a broad spectrum of older people. There are ones that seem relatively young, but are hardened and calloused on the inside. They simply want to have what's theirs, and to be left alone. There are others that seem old and crusty, but have really been waiting all their lives for that time when they have to rise to the occasion, shake off the shackles that society has placed them in, and become amazingly alive. Yet others will simply do whatever is necessary, because that is what they have always done, for as long as they can remember; and then one day they will stop, and become like children. Yet others fall into despair, or act normal but convert their psychological shock at the changed circumstances into mysterious illnesses.

Some older people I know are like giant warehouses of knowledge – richer than the biggest library. Others hold their secrets well, looking for one or two young persons they can teach, who will deliver them one generation further. Still others simply have a rhythm to their lives that can go on forever – if you learn it, you will be able to pass it on. But plenty of others are simply dead weight: organic matter kept alive artificially. An oil-based life support system that has allowed them to be fruitful and multiply is now allowing them to persist, for a time. One more day is one more day, like fungus growing on a tree stump.

Who knows what any of this means for Mike and Mary, our two aging baby boomers with an income in the $100,000 per year range and a dream of living out their retirement in their suburban home? The fact that they are concerned about something they have read on a Web site is not significant: there are lots of alarming, and alarmist, Web sites. The fact that they have known that oil was going to run out some day since the 1970s is also not that significant: quite a few people have known that for just as long, and have not done a thing about it. The fact that their children are not the least bit interested in these matters is to be expected. Even if their motto is “do as we say, not as we do,” why should anyone expect their children to follow it? Least important is the fact that at their ripe age they are showing concern over something that has been unfolding over most of their lifetimes, and will continue unfolding, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly.

Out of Retirement

Mike and Mary should brace themselves for some bad news. The first piece of bad news is that their retirement is going to be canceled. Their investments and savings will be devalued, and the value of their equity in their suburban house will be negligible. They will probably continue to receive checks from the government, but it will not be enough to live on. The second piece of bad news is that there will not be any actual official paid work available to them to make up the shortfall. Nor is it likely that there will be any official recognition of their plight, or public attempts to remedy the situation, or effective political organizations for people in their predicament. This may come as a shock to a generation used to being a political force to be reckoned with.

A Byzantine system of accounting has already been put in place for forging inflation and unemployment statistics. Cost of living adjustments are always kept at about half the level of actual inflation. The term “unemployed” has been redefined to mean “eligible to receive temporary unemployment benefits.” As inflation starts to pick up, retirees on fixed incomes will gradually be driven destitute.

A Sad Alternative

If Mike's and Mary's plan is to live out their golden years in a suburban house, driving to and fro, then they clearly do not have a plan, and will gradually lose control of their lives. Almost immediately, their house will become too expensive to heat. Next, it will become impossible for them to continue driving, due to gasoline rationing and shortages. Next, electricity will be cut off. For a time, they may continue to be supplied with food by some community-based service.

At some point, if they are lucky, they will be evacuated to some hastily organized compound – most likely a dormitory or a barrack with cots and a television set in the corner, which is mostly off due to lack of electricity, and plenty of blank walls to stare at. There will be a dining hall, where they will receive their daily portions of tea and gruel.

Perhaps one of their children will come to their rescue. But it is more than likely that their own circumstances will be quite difficult, and that they will have little ability to provide for their parents, especially if none of them have made any preparations for doing so. Or perhaps they will be quite capable of providing for their parents but will not want to.

A Happier Alternative

So Mike and Mary need a plan. But who are they, and would it not be presumptuous of me to attempt to contrive a plan for them, not knowing who they are? Nevertheless, let me venture a guess or two. Is there something unique and amazing, lurking behind that vinyl-clad suburban façade and those tinted SUV windows? Even if there is not, here are some fairly basic ideas that spring to mind.

Maybe Mary's spirit has not been broken over decades spent teaching in the soulless U.S. public school system. Maybe she is ready to open her own school, in her own living room, for neighborhood kids of all ages, one that teaches something more valuable than how to pass government-mandated standardized tests. Maybe she could recruit some younger trainee teachers, who need not have the worthless degree in Education? Retired American schoolteachers are known for doing that sort of thing in other third world countries, so why not in this one?

And what about Mike and his decades of accumulated business and managerial acumen in striking deals, negotiating and enforcing contracts, and inspecting financial statements? He could, for instance, put his skills to good use in pushing through mixed use zoning, so that people in his community could open shops in their basements and garages. When the public water supply becomes contaminated, disrupted, or too expensive, perhaps Mike could help negotiate utility easements for the gathering of rainwater. He could organize rent strikes against absentee landlords, forcing them to sell to people within the community. He could help convert the school bus fleet to full-time use, serving the entire community throughout they day, rather than just children, twice a day.

The best that Mike and Mary can hope to achieve is to cluster their children around them, all living in close proximity, although preferably not in the same house. Too close is almost as bad as too far away; next door, or on the same street, is optimal. The bigger the extended household Mike and Mary are able to form, the better their chances of living comfortably. It makes little difference whether their children are aware of these preparations ahead of time. If Mike and Mary are able to offer support and practical advice to their children when the economy turns sour and their children's lives start to fall apart, they will probably accept the favor, and will later want to return it.

Suburbia Forever

Am I being overly optimistic about the promise of a reformed American suburbia? Some people are ready to declare suburbia to be at an end. But then I know that Americans are very much driven to hyperbole, always willing to put an end to something certifiably unstoppable (war, AIDS, cancer, poverty, global warming), usually by making a small charitable donation, by wearing a colorful plastic bracelet, or by going for a walk, a run, or a bicycle ride. Below the charming, childlike confidence and optimism of such ventures lurks a culturally ingrained inability to grasp something basic: not all problems are solvable.

And thus I discern an element of wishful thinking in the idea that suburbia is going to conveniently disappear, and that everyone who lives there will simply go and live someplace else. A cabin in the woods, perhaps? Or a picturesque desert island? How about a space colony? Nor do I find it plausible that half the U.S. population will lay down and die shortly after they discover that some of their cars no longer run or that their kitchen appliances no longer work. And so I find it safe to think that most of the existing infestations of Suburbia americans are ineradicable, but that the evolutionary pressure of a chronic energy shortage will force them to evolve into something much less energy-intensive. Whether, in each case, that something will turn out to be absolutely horrible, or quite pleasant, will depend on many things.

For instance, a suburb with many big lawns and golf courses could pass a series of enlightened ordinances such as “No grass shall be cut until it has gone to seed, and shall only be used for forage or fodder.” Then they could all keep ponies, ride them to the market, and live happily ever after. No, it is not quite that easy, but I am convinced that the biggest obstacle is bad habits – like keeping the grass clipped really short and putting the clippings into garbage bags to be hauled away in garbage trucks. It should not take any brilliant new inventions or high-priced initiatives to make suburbia survivable. All that is needed is for people to stop doing a lot of nonsensical things and start doing a few commonsense ones. Even if they resist, circumstances will inevitably nudge them in the right direction.

Should Mike and Mary decide to move or to stay? Do they know, and like, their neighbors? Do they think that their current community will hold together? Do they have faith in their ability to adapt? Is their suburb a place where their children will want to live? If answers to any of these questions is “no”, then they have very little to lose by moving.

If they decide to move, they could move to a small town and strive towards self-sufficiency by doing some gardening, maybe even raise some livestock. Their children may decide to join them there, once they run out of other options, which they will if they do not prepare. Or they could move to a city (one of the few compact, livable ones) – and hope that they will be taken care of there.

Finally, they could decide to leave the country altogether, but for this they would need to have quite an adventurous spirit. There are plenty of stable, if not prosperous, places on this planet, that are far less dependent on the international energy and financial markets than the U.S., and where the cataclysms that will shake the U.S. will barely register.