Crime

When Living Standards Regress to 2002 Levels*, Survivors Will Envy the Dead

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They were going to call it Canadian Apocalypse but they wanted something with broader appeal.

In case any of you still are not reading Bill McBride's Calculated Risk blog with fanatical attention, here's one more reason to tune in: The Calculated Risk comments section produces whole novels, including what may be the first post-apocalyptic scenario based on the Great Credit Unwind. For more about author Nova's unhumbly titled American Apocalypse, read on, MacDuff:

Nova's protagonist, Gardener, loses his job, and is forced to face the challenges of the street. Almost vacant strip malls, "car people", "tree people" and tent cities are all part the scenery.

Wez and Golden Youth took to the road when they found they owed more than their suburban Sydney townhouse was worth.

The book is reminiscent of other post-apocalyptic stories—like "Alas, Babylon" following a nuclear war—except the financial and social crisis of American Apocalypse builds slowly throughout the story, adding tension to the challenges of survival.

Gardener lives in a suburb of D.C. that faces cutbacks in services, creating more hardships for the homeless and unemployed. Eventually the town goes bankrupt, and an Old West style of justice becomes the norm—and Gardener discovers a Charles Bronson "Death Wish" like talent.

Here is an excerpt:

I am sure that someday a history will be written of our times, I am just not sure from whose perspective it will be written. Eventually there will be a Gibbons to write the Decline and Fall, but I am positive it will not be Europe or America that produces the author.

The fragmentation of information sources was accelerating. Print had failed as a business model, at least of the daily news; digital broadcast news was homogeneous for the most part. The only difference in the networks was what shade of the official color you wanted. Online news was the least regulated and most interesting; the only problem was the amount of noise one had to sift through to find a reliable source. I was still reading Calculated Risk then, this was before the 'Information Consolidation Act' shut him down.

 (Housekeeping note: Unless Leeza Gibbons has gone into the history business that should be "Gibbon.")

Predatory lenders sold Toady a boomerang he didn't need and couldn't afford.

For this Toady's money, the best slow-decay apocalypse is still the one in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, and I'm not sure there's been a persuasive new vision of the fall of civilization since The Road Warrior, which was itself an update of L.Q. Jones' post-modern wasteland in that he-man woman hater's classic A Boy and His Dog.

The first decade of the 21st century has seen the mainstreaming of the zombie apocalypse, but that scenario dates back at least to the 1970s. Have there been good recent concepts for the end times?

Economic armageddon stories are a hard sell for a good reason: As noted in Reason, civil society continues to hold together despite all the best predictions of politicians and their media stooges. Crime rates refuse to increase; foreclosure-driven neighborhood collapses seem to be permanently stuck in the next town over. Now we're being warned of an explosion in the homeless population (which never seems to decline when the economy is strong). Yet the homeless surge too keeps failing to happen. Why isn't everything going south?

Maybe it's the Stimulus keeping it all together. Maybe President Obama is holding off the deluge through sheer audacious hope. Or maybe Americans are not the collection of pavlovian criminals and sniveling wimps policy makers want you to think they are.

But as an Arlington County mortgage payer, I'm interested to see that Nova's novel is set in a suburb of D.C. Someday I'll be able to greet vistors the way Jason Robards does at 3:13 here:

* An exaggeration of course: In 2002 people didn't even have iPhones.

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  1. Just be nicer to Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo when he offers you an onion.

  2. Meh. Right after the whole “collapse”, NBC did a blitz on the “tent cities” popping up in big cities. Yet, those shantytowns seem to be shrinking (if not entirely gone) in most places (they were never here in AZ to begin with, despite AZ having some of the greatest foreclosure rates in the nation). The fact is (like Reason has pointed out before) that the major of homeless people don’t stay homeless for long. Crime, ghost towns, ect. also seem as unlikely…

    Wake me up when China comes to collect on our debt. Until then, media, stop tryin’ to scare ma!

  3. I hate Obama zombies.

  4. The apocalypse happened already. Unironic blog fanfic walks the earth.

    Sure, it’s just one novel now, but in a couple weeks we’ll be trapped inside a mall besieged by hordes of Instapundit/Althouse slash.

  5. I’m sure if Obama keeps trying he can bring about economic armageddon.

  6. “Civil society continues to hold together despite all the best predictions of politicians and their media stooges.”

    Uh, not sure about that. Once politicians and the media stop using loaded newspeak language like “the recovery” I’ll let them out of the sleazeball penalty box. Things aren’t good.

  7. As noted in Reason, civil society continues to hold together despite all the best predictions of politicians and their media stooges.

    I suppose it depends on the scale you’re looking at. It could be argued that civil society *did* collapse for a bit in the middle of the latter third of the 20th century in the South Bronx and other ‘inner city’ locations, as ably chronicled by Jane Jacobs.

    Now, it is true that, as also noted by Jacobs, that the collapse was *caused* by those selfsame politicians and stooges.

    Civil society is a valuable thing, maybe the most valuable thing to anything resembling the modern notion of freedom. While sturdy, not indestructible; and when gone, extremely difficult to rebuild – otherwise Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, etc wouldn’t have such intractable problems

  8. Not to disagree that this particular version of Armageddon may be a bit too fanciful.
    Just saying ‘it can happen here’.

  9. Tim,

    I have been reading H&R mostly on my iPhone, but on my mac I now just noticed the great alt text you have on the images. Even better than the post! Get your feathers, leathers, and loan modification; dyin’ time is here.

  10. Economic armageddon stories are a hard sell for a good reason: As noted in Reason, civil society continues to hold together despite all the best predictions of politicians and their media stooges.

    That was the idea John had for the book series I helped him with. It still leaves room for bad individuals doing bad things.

  11. …The Road Warrior, which was itself an update of

    – and a massive improvement upon –

    L.Q. Jones’ post-modern wasteland in that he-man woman hater’s classic A Boy and His Dog.

  12. Oh, Tim. I too long for the days when I armored up my Camaro and took to roaming the wastelands in a never ending search for gasoline. Would have have been lonely had it not been for my trusty, though empty, sawed off shotgun and prescient dog. Then after defeating the Lord Humungus, the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla, and his berserkers I settled down to a comfortable mortgage. Good times.

  13. BP,

    What!?!? A boy and his dog was awesome. You tell me where you can come up with a guy on a rape quest as a plot device.

    1. The Fountainhead?

      jk, jk…

      1. I’ve been pwned!!!

        Oh noes!! 😉

        1. But it was Don Johnson’s greatest role.

    2. My Daily Hikes, By Steve Smith?

      1. I’ve read that. Lot of good stories in there. Oh and the rape bits? Classic.

  14. I’m not too keen on the “we are all going to be riding motorcycles and killing each other for gasoline, or looking for land end of the world” silliness.

    As long as we can continue to have some semblance of a free market amazing things happen when people get pushed to great lengths. We’re fine as long as our government doesn’t try to help us too much.

    On the unemployment, I’ve been digging around looking for information or opinions on shifts from cyclical unemployment to structural. Frictional is obviously high, but a major shift to structural from cyclical unemployment would not bode well for Americans. With government pushing entitlement and the growing G in the GDP model I can see a lot of business taking advantage and moving employment (especially services) out of the US to avoid government and lower labor. The motivation to move due to one or the other seems historically low for what looks like many reasons (i.e. cost of moving jobs or ability to do so) This isn’t an “OMG SAVE TEH JOBS OBAMA” push and I’m not sure it is happening. But the potential is somewhat disturbing. If the natural rate of unemployment goes up (only god or the easter bunny get to calculate the natural rate) and the feds history of deciding it can effectively influence unemployment with out fucking up the money supply (they have been pretty unimpressive at this) then we run a pretty interesting set of events. By interesting I mean much shittier than Japan’s lost decade, a sort of lost decade with a lemon twist.

    Here’s to hoping markets and people can over come 537+ people trying there best to fuck it up. I’m still waiting for sure to be monstrosities of the commercial property fix and Titillation 2.0: Return of the Jobs.

    I still have faith, but damn it gets hard sometimes.

    1. Titillation 2.0: Return of the Jobs

      Will there be ewoks?

      1. God I hope so. I here they taste great.

        1. *nods approval*

          Perhaps I was hasty with the below comment.

      2. Do-da-do-da-do…Yub! Yub!

  15. I’m not too keen on the “we are all going to be riding motorcycles and killing each other for gasoline, or looking for land end of the world” silliness

    I will end you.

  16. Two banks enter, one bank leaves!

    1. I think that is scribed above the entrance to the FDIC headquarters.

  17. I don’t want to return to 2002 living standards. In 2002 i was the brokest i’ve ever been in my life.

    Of course, i was still in college then.

    1. I think that’s aggregate, not individual. Pretty sure it is.

    2. Would you take the brokeness in exchange for all the cheap beer and young chicks?

      Oh wait, if you were in college in 2002, you’re in your 20’s and probably still have those. Bastard.

    3. In 2002 I had a very nice 6-figure salary so I would welcome it.

  18. Historically speaking, things have to get pretty fucked up for a civilisation to collapse into a dark age. A nuclear war would do it, but a recession’s awfully weak tea. For his sake, I hope the author is writing tongue-in-cheek – if your vision of the American Apocalypse starts with “cutbacks in services” and “almost vacant strip malls” you’re probably a terminally nervous type who can’t even leave the house on a nice day without a stiff drink to get your courage up.

    Plagues, volcanic eruptions, civil wars, barbarian invasions, famines – there’s your god-damned apocalypse.

    Now get off my lawn!

    1. 30 years of socialism can almost always do it… at least for 90% of the population…

  19. Here’s to hoping markets and people can over come 537+ people trying there best to fuck it up.

    Get out of my House!

  20. Holy crap. Posting precoffee is not a good idea for me. Looks like a retarded chimp wrote what I did. Then again I’m not far from retarded chimp.

  21. Actually, the apocalyptic vision of The Road Warrior is ultimately undone by the clothes.

    As can be pretty much proven conclusively by a simple viewing of Beyond Thunderdome.

    People just aren’t going to wake up one day and say, “Let’s all put on leather chaps and partial football equipment and helmets with big plumes.” Na ga happen.

    The thing about apocalypses and dark ages is that if anyone is talking about being in one, you can be pretty sure you aren’t in one. When the Goths took over the western Roman Empire, they walked around patting themselves on the back talking about how advanced and modern they were, and how secure they had made civilization. Charlemagne truly thought he had restored the civilization of antiquity, and not just a fantasy baseball camp imitation of it. And, of course, the greatest barbarians of all, like Lenin and Mao, thought that they were the culmination of mankind’s entire cultural and historical development, and not murderers and vandals on a continental scale.

    1. People just aren’t going to wake up one day and say, “Let’s all put on leather chaps and partial football equipment and helmets with big plumes.” Na ga happen.

      You need a drive through the hood.

    2. People just aren’t going to wake up one day and say, “Let’s all put on leather chaps and partial football equipment and helmets with big plumes.” Na ga happen.

      Oh, goodness I hope not. I want to be the only one. That way, after the Pox-Eclipse everyone will fear me and not notice my shotgun is empty.

      1. I keep forgetting to get a magazine extension for my pump shotgun. Thanks for the reminder.

    3. Great comment on apocalypses … however, it only applies to the talking by the ruling class. I’m sure the Romonovs thought that Russia was in the midst of the apocalypse and that Chiang thought the same about China.

      Agree on the criticism of the attire worn by characters in RW.

      Even more unreal is the constant squandering of hydrocarbons when the premise of the flick is that hydrocarbons are the most precious substance on earth.

  22. People just aren’t going to wake up one day and say, “Let’s all put on leather chaps and partial football equipment and helmets with big plumes.” Na ga happen.

    Well, maybe you wouldn’t.

    1. I agree, Xeones.

      *That* is change you can believe in.

    2. Sounds like your average Summer evening in Provincetown.

  23. People just aren’t going to wake up one day and say, “Let’s all put on leather chaps and partial football equipment and helmets with big plumes.” Na ga happen.

    I live for that day.

    1. In my land, we call it “Saturday.”

  24. Oh wait, if you were in college in 2002, you’re in your 20’s and probably still have those. Bastard.

    I’m barely in my twenties anymore, am married, and have a kid. But the beer is still cheap.

  25. I LOVE MY ASSLESS CHAPS!!

    HURR DURR HURR DURR DURR!

  26. Economic armageddon stories are a hard sell for a good reason: As noted Economic armageddon stories are a hard sell for a good reason: As noted in Reason, civil society continues to hold together despite all the best predictions of politicians and their media stooges.

    But- but- KATRINA!!!11

    Total breakdown of society. Overnight! Don’t you remember the widespread rape, murder, pillage and cannibalism?

    I seen it on the teevee, dude.

  27. This might be a good time to have an “edit comment” function.

    Or a big red UNDO button.

  28. Visions of the general apocalypse are fairly static over time. There are only so many “plausible” ways to destroy civilization.

    The eco-apocalypse will grow in popularity and use in fiction, especially as the greatest crutch for apocalypse fiction, widespread nuclear war, holds less fascination (and fear) for the public at large. Running counter to the eco-apocalypse will be the luddite-apocalypse, its dark twin. And of course, there will be many blendings of the two.

    The most plausible of apocalypse scenarios in my mind is a pseudo-Singularity event. As it becomes more possible for smaller groups of people to have all the components of a functioning, but completely isolated, civilization, a balkanization will occur that will be disastrous for human progress and create the static conditions of the Dark Ages. And those people caught out of the autonomous groups will probably not survive, or at least severely regress to the timeless (and tech-static) pastoral state.

    1. I’m waiting for the Eschaton.

      1. Just so long as you don’t immanentize it.

    2. Don’t worry. After the Singularity-induced Dark Ages, we will finally be saved. The true messiah, the Immortal Emperor of Mankind, will bring Man to the pinnacle of its potential.

  29. Running counter to the eco-apocalypse will be the luddite-apocalypse, its dark twin.

    Like Congress, for instance.

  30. As it becomes more possible for smaller groups of people to have all the components of a functioning, but completely isolated, civilization, a balkanization will occur that will be disastrous for human progress and create the static conditions of the Dark Ages.

    Fixed it for you. But then, i’m a big believer in the distributed republic model.

    1. I think progress is an emergent system and under a certain level of interacting individuals and exterior pressures, it grinds to a halt.

      I’m fine with autonomous communities, I just think there is a granularity they can reach that would be detrimental.

      1. Well, you have to possess a certain knowledge base and tech base for them to be functional. Once the population dips down below some point, you simply don’t have enough specialization to provide all the skills you need to keep things running. Truly autonomous small communities are difficult to maintain for this reason alone. There’s always going to be a need for interaction with those that have the skills you lack.

  31. I suppose it depends on the scale you’re looking at. It could be argued that civil society *did* collapse for a bit in the middle of the latter third of the 20th century in the South Bronx and other ‘inner city’ locations, as ably chronicled by Jane Jacobs.

    Yielding a bunch of trashy, pulp violent-youth-run-amuk sf stories and Escaped From New York.

    So that’s all for the good.

  32. Somehow I just dont think we will ever see those levels again.

    Jess
    http://www.be-anonymous.bg.tc

  33. I don’t want to return to 2002 living standards.

    Me neither; my income is up nearly 75% since 2002.

  34. Some of us may be amused by this review of _Lucifer’s_Hammer_.

  35. Eventually there will be a Gibbons to write the Decline and Fall, but I am positive it will not be Europe or America that produces the author.

    (Housekeeping note: Unless Leeza Gibbons has gone into the history business that should be “Gibbon.”)

    Actually, you’re both wrong. The word should correctly have been pluralized but not capitalized. We are, of course, referencing a bastardization of the infinite monkey theorem here. But while a roomful of monkeys with typewriters would obviously tend toward the Bard, it is the gibbon ape using WordPerfect that is more apt to write post-apocolyptic non-fiction.

    I hope this clears that up for everyone.

  36. In 2002 I had a very nice 6-figure salary so I would welcome it.

    Can 2002-me crash on 2002-you’s couch for, like, just a couple of weeks?

    1. Sure. Why not. I would probably be out of town on business most of the time anyway.

  37. Road Warrior has nothing to do with A Boy and His Dog. It’s a resetting of Shane, right down to the end, except the boy rides off and Max stays behind.

  38. Wow. I pass by many of the landmarks mentioned in American Apocalypse weekly. That was both surreal and a little sobering to read.

    I think it’s probably healthy to be reminded that the Inevitable Breakdown(TM) is, by definition, inevitable.

    I have faith in the inherent resilience of most people. I’m convinced that part of the delight I take in traveling to some parts of the world is from the fact that there’s entrepreneurship in every available crevice. Sure, sometimes they poach big brands, but most times it’s inspiring to see someone find something modest to sell everywhere one turns.

    The West Virginia portion of the first set of the story was on the mark – if you haven’t had much, you may not notice a change for quite some time.

    I would never suggest that we should aspire to live in mud huts (that’s largely my beef with some “climate” activists), but I do think it’s only responsible to know from whence comes food, and how to live for more than 2 days if the lights go out.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that 75% of suburban America and a higher percentage of urban America don’t.

    On the upside, many of these are the same people who think firearms are icky or evil, so maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about marauding hordes of soccer moms.

  39. Unfortunately, I suspect that 75% of suburban America and a higher percentage of urban America don’t.

    On the upside, many of these are the same people who think firearms are icky or evil, so maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about

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