Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Shaking the Magic Eight Ball

A time-honored blogger tradition among us Doomers is making predictions for the coming year. I’m an occasional participant, and usually I don’t do very well. I will have to say, though, that my predictions for 2012 were pretty accurate, but I will confess that anyone who was really paying attention would have predicted the same things that I predicted, and we would both have been correct.

I guess, for me, being right isn’t very comforting, because I don’t consider myself terribly astute or observant. What’s concerning is how predictable our lives are becoming. So much of the same-old, same-old. We’re not learning the lessons, and so we’re stuck in this Bill Murray-esque Ground Hog Day scenario.

In 2012, I stated: we haven't heard the last of the OWSers, but I don't think they're going to be sitting as peacefully in protest as they were during this past fall. When they go back into the streets en masse in the spring, and as their voices are ignored through the summer (and as the election nears), they will become a little more insistent. I don't think it will be pretty.

I predicted that the OWS protests would get more violent, and that didn’t happen, but we haven’t heard the end of them. They are still out there. In fact, the last report I read about the OWSers seems to indicate that they are getting a bit more organized. The whole problem with their initial campaign was that there are just too many issues that can be perceived as being *the* problem, and they were unable to focus their energy on one issue. The powers-that-be said they wanted to listen to the OWSers demands, but “we want you to fix it” wasn’t enough for the elite to take action. Also, since the problem is the elite, nothing got done.

I still believe that the OWSers have a few more breaths to take before they go completely the way of the Dodo, but unfortunately, I no longer believe that their protests will be the catalyst for change that we need to have happen. In fact, I think the changes that need to happen are happening but at a very local, very grassroots, level. We, as individuals, are making changes, small protests, little passive-aggressive behaviors, like growing gardens and shopping at local stores. We are all becoming the change we want to see.

My thoughts in 2012 were that the economy will continue to tumble. Robert Prince, who was the co-chief investment officer for Bridgewater (the world’s biggest hedge fund firm) estimated “at least a decade of slow growth and high unemployment for the big developed economies”. I think he's being optimistic. I think there will be no growth, but I think the numbers will continue to be reported as if growth is happening, i.e. the media will gloss over or ignore the first few months of the year when there will be no spending, except on the "bare necessities" - like heating oil and food. Then, during the summer months, there will seem to be some growth, as those who are still able to do such things, are taking their vacations. At the beginning of the school year, there will be the typical surge in spending for "school supplies", followed by several months of non-spending, followed by the usual, very likely more subdued than in the past, holiday spending orgy - which will be a whole lot less like an orgy and a whole lot more like a middle school round of spin-the-bottle. Something like 75% of our economy is consumer spending, and there will be a lot less of that, overall and compared to other years, but it will be spun to look as if good things are happening.

I just have to say that I totally nailed this one. According to this article holiday spending was way down with the figures lower than the nadir of 2008. I keep hearing that the Great Recession is over, but I haven’t seen any proof. Stock figures, in my opinion, are not proof of anything except that some people still have a bit of money to gamble. What is proof is that I know a lot of people who are still working, who never lost their jobs or any of their income, but are finding it more and more difficult to pay the bills. Prices on – and I won’t use the word commodities, because it seems unfair to give our food a name that implies its value is in how much money some fat cat can make selling it to us – essentials are increasing, and it looks like other costs will continue to increase as well – like the tax base, as States and municipalities continue to struggle to pay their bills.

The whole “fiscal cliff” circus (and please recall that the government has been playing these exact fear-mongering games for, at least, the past four years, threatening us that if *they* don’t balance the budget, we’ll be experiencing cuts to programs like social security, and causing a general panic among the citizenry, who will allow Congress to do just about anything to ensure that whatever benefit each individual receives continues to flow from them to us) is a ridiculous sham and is just the government’s way of continuing to control us so that when they do, finally (and they will – just not at the Federal level), raise taxes, we’ll understand that it was inevitable. Eleven states have been dubbed Death Spiral States, which means that in those States more people are receiving some sort of assistance than are paying into the programs. In Maine, for every 107 people who are getting aid, only 100 are paying for it. Just let me say that this bleeding of the able to care for the unable can not continue.

I think in 2013 we will begin to see some of these cuts – first locally. It’s already happening, at least from where I sit, with poorer attention to road maintenance, previously fully funded community programs (like public libraries) having their budgets cut or having to close their doors due to lack of funding, crumbling infrastructures, and continued fights over balancing the budgets. We need to stop devoting so much of our attention, time and energy on what the clowns in Washington D.C. are doing (unless, of course, we live in Washington D.C.) and start really paying heed to the actions and dictates of our local law makers. The local stuff will have a lot bigger impact on our overall well-being.

I’d also recommend, as always, that we – each - concentrate even more attention on self-sufficiency. Those safety nets are getting worn, and more and more people are falling through. Maine is a Death Spiral State, and my options are to move to another State or to make sure that I’m able to care for myself, because there is a very big likelihood that there will not be any public assistance for me, should I find that I need it.

Since oil is such a huge part of our daily lives, I would have been remiss if I hadn’t made some prediction with regard to the price of oil for 2012, and my thoughts were that the price of oil will continue to bounce around the $90/per barrel range, but most people won't even realize it, because, unless there is some major civil unrest in the Middle East, decreased overall demand will keep prices relatively stable. I totally nailed this one. For most of the year, the price of oil per barrel bounced between $85 and $100.

In 2013, I think the price will continue to creep, but will hover closer to $100, where it will remain for most of the year. Oil is a commodity, and someone is making a great deal of money on it while it is still available. I think we will also see a continued trend toward using less, but it will be at the individual level. There will be no big push by any of our “leaders” toward energy independence, and while there will continue to be lots of talk about alternative energies and some interesting proposals, most of the alt. energy projects in 2013 will be small, personal-sized systems.

Overall, I think most people won’t pay much attention to the creeping prices, because they’ll believe there’s nothing they can do, and the price increases will continue to be slow and insidious enough (like boiling water) that few people will protest out loud until it becomes a personal burden. There will certainly be no calls to the government to do something about the prices, and no one would even consider clamoring for the release of the strategic oil reserves in an effort to control prices.

In 2012, I stated that a lot more people will be jumping on the austerity wagon and looking for ways to cut the budget and live more frugally, but none of them will want to feel deprived. So, I predict that this will be a pivotal year for those writers and teachers whose focus is on low-impact living and skills. People are already looking for that sort of information and finding blogs, like mine. There's definitely room for more people with good advice on how to live better with less.

I think I nailed this one, too. I see more and more blogs and e-books (especially) devoted to living more simply and ways to stretch that dollar. I also hear more people who are talking about ways to cut costs, and thrift store shopping has become so fashionable that Macklemore’s song, Thrift Store, is getting (too) much radio time on our local pop stations.

A concerning trend is the increase in the number of Pawn Shops that have surfaced locally. Pawn Shops are, traditionally, commonplace in poorer urban communities, and were a fixture in the films produced during the 1970s energy and economic crisis, but were rare in suburban communities, like mine. They are still less conspicuous than in some places, but I have seen several new Pawn Shops open up where other businesses have shuttered in recent years. While I love second-hand stores, and rarely buy new stuff in favor of a good used bargain, the fact of Pawn Shops seems to suggest a desperation that is less positive than “popping tags” at Goodwill.

In 2013, we will love our second-hand gear even more, and in fact, I predict that not only will we continue our devotion to Goodwill, but that the new trend will be one of repurposing. My beautiful (and real-life) friend, Amanda Blake Soule, and those, who, like her, make their living promoting the idea of reuse and repurpose, will be the new Martha Stewart.

And with all of the hype regarding the Mayan Calendar at the end of 2011, it was a no-brainer to predict that there will be no one, single, catastrophic event that pushes us into Armageddon ... except, maybe, the outcome of the 2012 US Presidential election ;).

The reelection of President Obama was no surprise, and it didn’t lead to Armageddon any more than the passing of the calendar from one astrological age into the next. Some of us doomers who fantasize about surviving and thriving in an S.M. Stirling apocalyptic reality might wish otherwise, but the fact is that in 2012, and 2013 and beyond, we will, simply, keep muddling along. Like every year, for always, 2013 will see its share of hard times and horrific disasters. The media will give us a fireworks show of reporting the incident(s), and then, a week later, they will move onto the next *big thing*. We will all experience small tragedies, probably, but for most of us, the trend toward less cash will become more just a fact of our lives than some hopeless situation, and we will adapt.

For 2013, I think the trend will be more toward adapting-in-place. I see a lot more of learning to live the way our grandparents did, and personally, I’m looking forward to a year of exploring the Gifts from my Nanofarm, as I learn to squeeze even more life out of my quarter acre.

Yesterday, after a month of doing without, as a gift for the New Year, one of our chickens gave us an egg. It's pretty amusing how just that little thing can be such a big deal.

5 comments:

  1. Wendy..one of your best posts! I had never heard of the death spiral states...I didn't see Arizona on the list and that surprised me...

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  2. Good recap Wendy. You were right on the money for most of them.

    A good post on a good blog that continues to report the slow collapse in your neck of the woods, and what you are doing to prepare for it.

    Gav x

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  3. Wendy - solid predictions for last year. Agree it is not likely there will be a single catastrophic event that propels our civilization into the dust-bin. More likely a creeping realism of poverty; those who have prepared will be better able to continue. But the overwhelming ignorance of the general population on these subjects is evident. "Black Swan" events are difficult to predict but they occur out of nowhere. Please continue the good work. Russ

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  4. What are OWSers? Just found your blog and I guess I'm in the dark about that. Can you fill me in?

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  5. Kearnygirl - OWS stands for "Occupy Wall Street" and the OWSers are the people who were involved in the movement :).

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