Saturday, September 20, 2008

Personal Parallels

My personal situation currently parallels, in microcosm, the picture I have painted of the world. My wife and I are both unemployed and depending for our survival on resources (our savings and her unemployment insurance) which are bound to run out. Our savings, comparable to the biosphere, is generating paltry interest (renewable resources) compared to our expenses (consumption), while money from unemployment, like non-renewable resources, is not replenished.

Next week, my wife will be starting a part-time temporary job that effectively offsets her unemployment insurance. Such a contract job is the equivalent of the world finding more non-renewable resources. It is likely that most of those new resources will be used for expenses, with the rest used by me to find a job of my own. If I get a contract job, some of what I earn will be put into savings (replacing the source of “renewable” interest), and some will be spent to find a job for us to start when our contracts are over (there are no more new resources).

In the worst case scenario, similar to the business-as-usual scenario that I and others have projected for the world, my wife will be unable to start her new job and I won’t find one. To make our dwindling supply of money last longer (and avoid the equivalent of a population decline), we have several courses of action, some or all of which may be done simultaneously. We can limit our expenses (holding consumption steady or decreasing it to a survivable level); sell what we’re not using or can live without (consume our waste); or we can invest some of our remaining money in an account that generates interest that we can spend (use non-renewable resources to provide renewable resources).

Among our “expenses” is insurance; without health insurance we would be risking untreatable sickness (imagine a world without health care); and without car insurance, we would be taking unacceptable (as well as illegal) risks by continuing to drive, at least as long as we could afford a car (without fuel and replacement parts, the world’s cars wouldn’t last long). Losing our home, we might be able to rent an apartment for a while, camp in the woods, or wander the streets unprotected from climate or predators (including other people). All of this would resemble the world population peak, soon to be followed by decline.

As I write, the United States government is preparing to add half a trillion dollars to its already stupendous debt, buying defaulted mortgages to prevent an economic depression that would make the 1930s look like a shopping spree. At the root of the ongoing crisis is people’s urge to consume more without paying for it with new resources. Our nation can afford to do this, for a while, because ours is not an isolated population (just as my wife and I have family, friends, and credit card companies to help us in an emergency). But eventually the world must banish people’s ability to act on this unhealthiest of urges and focus on doing the equivalent of finding a new job and increasing savings.

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