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« Shangri-La Update | Main | Perceiving Italy »

October 12, 2007

Forseeable Disasters

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Oh dear. (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) Better to buy that made-in-China flat-panel TV now than to wait, I guess.

Sigh: What have we done to ourselves? It's not as if many people haven't seen most of our current travails coming. Even shortsighted me: I've been following the immigration thing since the '70s. Seemed obvious to me in France in '71 (as a dumb kid!) that Europe would soon be running into trouble. And yup. Back in the States, I read up on immigration history, learned about the US's 1965 Immigration Act, and thought, Drat, trouble ahead for us too. And trouble there has indeed been.

Which current train-wreck-in-the-making have you most clearly seen coming?



posted by Michael at October 12, 2007


The balance of trade issue's been hard to miss. I live in a great place overlooking the SF bay. For ten years the ships sailing through -- at least those with the most containers -- have been Chinese. Electronic toys headed for WalMart accounts for a lot of them, I'm sure.

I was slow to wake up on the global warning thing. It's been top of mind for only a couple years, I'm sorry to say.

Europe has got to pay attention to the Islamic enclaves within their big cities. They are so hands-off as to allow Sharia law to take predominance over local laws. They made a mistake by encouraging guest worker programs without having some kind of plan to assimilate the workers into the general society. America does a better job of that sort of thing. Although I think a lot of black people think we've been twiddling our thumbs for a few centuries on that issue.

Posted by: Fred Wickham on October 12, 2007 4:52 PM

Minneapolis. They brought in Somalians who are rapidly turning the city into Somalia.

Posted by: Lee on October 12, 2007 5:13 PM

This is going to end very badly, I'm afraid. In 50 or 100 years, the USA is going to be closer ethnically, culturally, and politically to Mexico than it is to its progenitor, England. Human beings are not just generic economic units that are interchangeable, much as our elites would like to believe that. A Mexicanized USA with a weak dollar as its currency would bear a strong economic resemblance to...Mexico: sluggish economic growth, corruption, poor infrastructure, etc. etc.

Posted by: Gary on October 12, 2007 5:30 PM

For me, it'd have to be our growing-like-a-tumor healthcare sector. I remember reading an article about in the Washington Post in 1986 that explained how uncontrolled healthcare spending was mutating into a monster that could eat our children's future. I've been bringing this up for 20 years now, and it makes me feel like the guy at the end of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" who's grabbing people by the lapels and babbling hysterically about alien zombies. Very few people seem to register just how bad this is likely to get.

Sadly, I confidently predict that in 10 years or so everybody is going to finally wake up...and find they're screwed.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 12, 2007 6:18 PM

Of course, they're not really train wrecks in the making.

It's a lot more plausible to assume that the people responsible were as aware as you are about these things.

Given this assumption, one reaches the conclusion that the people responsible thought that it was a worthwhile trade-off, for whatever reason. Perhaps even still think so.

Posted by: Alan on October 12, 2007 6:30 PM

Any thoughts on Peak Oil or the technical singularity?

Posted by: Scott on October 12, 2007 7:23 PM reaches the conclusion that the people responsible thought that it was a worthwhile trade-off, for whatever reason. Perhaps even still think so.

Absolutely agree. Clearly one man's disaster is another man's opportunity, and some people and groups of people have done very well for themselves over the past few decades. However, if things do get bad, there may be some backlash brewing. That may not even be an entirely bad thing.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 12, 2007 7:24 PM

As an addendum to what Alan and FvB have said: the mark of this age is the disconnect between what The People, the average shlubs, you and me want and what the elites, the powerful, the rulers want. That's what makes it an unhappy age (for the majority). There is a sense of being witness to a snowballing trainwreck (to mix metaphors) which could be avoided if only there was a modicum of sense at the top. To those at the top however, what we commoners perceive as nonsensicle and even catastrophic - the pursuit of a universal nation - is an ideal. I realize that powerful business interests on one side and Amerika haters on the other side are benefiting from the unregulated invasion of America. But I believe that most of our rulers are simply caught up in a fever dream of multi-culti diversity worship which MUST NOT BE QUESTIONED. What might change this? "If things do get bad," to quote FvB, "there may be some backlash brewing." I hope so. Problem is the elites are so well barricaded - literally - that things will have to get very bad indeed. And then it may be too late.

Posted by: ricpic on October 12, 2007 8:15 PM

As serious as the above-raised issues are, my candidate for "best nightmare" is the destruction of the dollar by endless deficit spending and monetary inflation (which, thanks to the advent of the computer, doesn't even require paper and ink anymore). A witty and incisive summary here: There are an awful lot of folks in the US to whom hyperinflation would be personally catastrophic, many of who have the mojo of youth. Can you say "rioting"? A political solution? Beats me. At a personal level, gold (particularly funds of mining stocks) has beat the pants off every other asset class for six years running. That, and the second passport I've taken pains to acquire. Every plebe for himself. Sigh.

Posted by: ExpatJim on October 12, 2007 9:21 PM

Remember when Japan was going to take over the world? It's always something, but strangely that something never seems to actually happen. Why would that be? Could it be that people are lousy at predicting the future because they project their own fears onto it?

Whatever actually does cause real trouble will almost certainly be entirely unanticipated.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on October 12, 2007 9:40 PM

Immigration and global warming have one important thing in common - neither issue interests me in the slightest. I am far more concerned with whether I'll be able to add ten pounds to my bench press by the end of the year.

Runaway health care spending? It can be brought under control very quickly with outcome-based rationing, which also would be much more humane. Spending huge amounts of money keeping a senile 90-year-old alive for a couple extra months is both a huge waste of money and barbaric. And then there's preventative medicine and medical research, both of which are largely ignored in favor of end-of-life care.

Posted by: Peter on October 12, 2007 10:41 PM

I think some goal-directed backlash would be fantastic. It would be nice if some of the people currently getting worked over would figure out what they wanted, so they could quit diddling around and go get it.

It seems that the backlash has always been directed by a new group that stands to do quite well for the expense of the poor suckers all over again.

As an afterthought, perhaps I'll actually answer the post's question.
I have to say I'm not sure. (Hello, irony, what's up.) Everything kinda seems busted. Throw a rock, hit a crumbling edifice.
This view may be because I spend too much time near the MSM and have exceeded my maximum daily dosage of M-rays.

Regardless, I think a snowball big enough to roll up a train would have to be made of pure awesome.

Posted by: Alan on October 12, 2007 10:45 PM

I'm an optimist. Most of the things that are seen as awful tend to end up not being so awful, and the world gets better over time. All that peak oil stuff, the death of the dollar, etc etc all were huge concerns 40 years ago, but American society, and the world in general, are vastly richer and more peaceful now than they were then.

Posted by: Foobarista on October 13, 2007 12:27 AM

A disease of the spirit infecting the most educated. Global Ingratitude!

Think of where we stand now, and what we have over huge areas of the developed world. Mass-distribution of just about everything. Cheap labour-saving devices and a super-abundance of food. The gorgeous vulgarity of malls crammed with obese people, the happy absurdity of a scrawny, diet-and-exercise-obsessed upper class...and life so long that we can now die of cancer. Yet we react like Dainty Miss Apathy in de la Mare's poem:

And the one silly word
In her desolate noddle
As she dangled her legs
Having nothing to do
Was not, as you'd guess,
Of dumbfoundered felicity,
But contained just four letters,
And these pronounced POOH!

Posted by: Robert Townshend on October 13, 2007 6:11 AM

"It is demonstrable," said [Dr. Pangloss], "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best."
- Voltaire, "Candide"

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 13, 2007 10:23 AM

Twenty years ago I read a book by a senior financial chap (Stockman?) from the Reagan administration. He'd wanted to cut expenditure. The others told him that there was no point: expenditure cuts, on things Republicans liked, wouldn't balance the budget; they'd only lead to the Democrats in Congress spending the money on things they'd like. It occurred to me that if things were already that bad, then they'd be disasterous when my own generation (baby boomers) came into office. Sure enough, along came these duds Clinton and W. The origin of the problem though goes back to at least Johnson, whose spending left Nixon to tear up the link to gold. Or FDR who gave you the corporate state. Or Wilson or Lincoln or Jackson. "And that too shall pass away."

Posted by: dearieme on October 13, 2007 5:07 PM

One thing that continues to amaze me is how city officials in Southern California (and other cities, perhaps) continue to squander city dollars and tax credits to attract development projects to attract “upscale” residents and visitors when the history of the region has proved time and again that the most spectacular growth has always come about by supplying middle class jobs, homes and developments.

In the recent past, the highly publicized (and highly subsidized) Hollywood and Highland Complex, near the Mann Chinese Theater, and the renovated Paseo Colorado in Pasadena have been huge busts. The parking at the Hollywood and Highland Center was ridiculously expensive (a problem made worse by a parking receipts embezzlement scandal) and originally the development was filled with ultra expensive and ultra exclusive upscale shops. Paseo Colorado had similar issues with upscale shops and expensive parking.

City officials strangely, but predictably, ignored the central fact that residents and tourists who came to see stuff like the movie star footprints and the Movie Star Walk of Fame, were overwhelming middle class and working class, and were shocked senseless by the expensive prices for food and services. Meanwhile, the self-styled elite, the snobs and the people looking for the next hot thing, stayed away in droves because the new shops did not offer anything that they could not get in their familiar hangouts. Predictably, upscale shops began shutting their doors, but leases were too high to attract more suitable tenants. Apart from the new Kodak Theater, where the Jimmy Kimmel Show and the Oscars are held, there is not much to recommend the new complex.

Paseo Colorado had similar issues with upscale shops and expensive parking. The sad thing is that the previous mall at the site did a pretty good job of appealing to local residents, who now have fewer choices and go to the movie theater in the mall, but avoid the pointlessly expensive shops and restaurants.

Have city officials learned anything from these debacles? Nope.

The LA Times recently ran a story about the upcoming debut of the Nokia Theater, near the Staples Center and the L.A. Convention Center, crowing about how the theater will be the anchor for a massive development including a Ritz Carlton Hotel and an upscale retail center all designed to bring the affluent to downtown. While there are a number of businesses, government offices, and parking lots in the area, the corridor is economically depressed.

What the writer, the developers and the city fathers continue to forget is that upscale destinations such as Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and the Westside Grove mall and theater complex are set in the midst of existing, viable middle class and upper middle class neighborhoods.

Architecture buffs may note that the photos and sketches of the new theater suggest that it is very undistinguished. An additional oddity is that it appears that an electronic marquee at the front of the theater appears to be set too high in a tower, and might be of little use to people walking around the complex. The article also notes how the theater is designed to be “acoustically sophisticated,” but offers little to indicate whether music and speech will actually sound good in the space. Both LA and New York have a history of theaters and music spaces that looked good, but which were plagued with poor acoustics (e.g., Avery Fisher Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Cerritos Arts Center).

A link to the LA Times story can be found here-- registration might be required to view the full story (“The Nokia Theatre is built, now will they come?” by Geoff Boucher, October 11, 2007).

A good Wikipedia article on Avery Fisher Hall and its acoustics problems can be found here.

Next up, some LA city fathers want to throw money at the NFL to guarantee a new stadium that will bring a football team to LA.

By the by, I think that stuff like this connects to potential larger economic train wreck in that for some reason, neither the present Republican Administration or the challenging Democrats seem to believe that a viable middle class is important to the continued prosperity of the country. Even more puzzling is why “the base” and the true believers in both parties continue to support people who demonstrate every day that they do not care in the least about their supposed constituents best interests.

Posted by: Alec on October 13, 2007 10:33 PM

I agree with Friedrich above on healthcare, if nothing is done. The desire by the current democratic candidates to socialize medicine makes me think they have no solutions either. One thing that needs to be done is put some sort of cap on the amount that can be awarded in malpractice suits, but congress stomps on tort reform legislation whenver it comes up because of the strong legal lobby. As a result of the threat of malpractice suits, all sorts of extra costs are piled on the average hospital visit as doctors perform all kinds of tests to cover their backside. The other thing is an aging population. Everyone dies of something, that is, most will spend part of their last few weeks or months in the hospital getting very expensive care that merely prolongs their life for a short time. Somehow that is have to going to be capped and that is going to be so politically unpopular its hard to see it ever happening.

Posted by: pat on October 13, 2007 11:54 PM

Do I read Pat correctly? He seems to think that the major problems with health care in this country are [a] the slow movement on the part of congress toward making medical care a right we all share rather than a privilege of those who can afford it; [b] that patients who suffer from bad medical services should not be able to sue; and [c] end of life decisions should be taken away from the patient or family in conjunction with their doctors and should instead be made by applying a cost benefit ratio formula. Wow! Why not simply add euthanasia for those too sick or too poor to properly contribute to the GDP?

I am more convinced that most of the problems with health care in this country are precisely because it is structured as a system of interlocking (primarily profit making) private enterprises rather than being "socialized." The profit incentives are almost all oriented away from patient needs and covering everyone toward maximizing investor returns by limiting coverage to the healthiest and wealthiest. Insurance companies make profits by limiting or denying payments; Big Pharma by selling pricy new drugs under patent protection; and doctors are better off choosing lucrative specialties and avoiding primary practice. I'm always perplexed by the presumption in certain quarters that government employees managing health care is a terrible idea but a system based on employees of HMOs and insurance companies whose job security is tied to minimizing the amounts spent on care is a great idea.

Posted by: Chris White on October 14, 2007 9:22 AM

We could easily give everybody a 1985 standard of care. The problem comes with trying to give everyone gold plated health care right up until the day they die.

Heroic government assistance should be limited to keeping families intact. If a father or mother of small children gets cancer and dies, that is a massive disruption to a whole bunch of people's lives. But, if someone dies at 85 instead of 90, that is not. Keeping children alive and good health, who have not had a chance to live their lives, who cannot make decisions on their own, and in whom their parents have invested so much of themselves, emotionally and financially, has to be a priority too.

My idea is that once your kids are all 30 or once you turn 65, whichever comes first, you should be responsible for your own health insurance and no one should be given anything except older treatments and palliative care if they cannot pay for it themselves. 30+ years is long enough to plan for these kinds of things, and if you don't that is your responsibility. Adults without children would also be responsible for their own health care and would receive only older treatments if they could not pay for it themselves

The comparison to euthenasia is a low blow. Death is natural. Not spending ourselves into oblivion to save someone who has already had a long life is not the same as killing them. The public at large does not have the obligation to keep you alive as long as possible.

Remember, there is always rationing, whether by prices or by waiting lists, like we have in Canada, where everything is socialized. (The system here is headed for a crash too.) In the end, there is no magic solution. We have to make choices.

Posted by: Thursday on October 14, 2007 4:43 PM

Problems on the horizon in no particular order:

1) Peak Oil. Life will become unfun for a whole lot of people. We might make it till 2012 with rising prices but no peak until 2012. Or the peak might already have happened. We need better battery technology to shift away from liquid fuel for transportation.

2) The retirement of the baby boomers combined with low IQ immigration driving the demographic shift toward a lower IQ workforce. Thank you immigration enthusiasts. May you rot in hell.

3) The Chinese pollution disaster.

4) The ecological disaster of lost jungles. I was watching a TV show about how in 800 AD the Mayans had torn down all their forests and their civilization collapsed. They ended up by describing how some Central American country will have no jungles left by 2020 or thereabouts. The drive for biomass energy when production declines will make this problem even worse.

5) The electoral effects of masses of dummies voting once the smarties retire and die in large numbers.

Posted by: Randall Parker on October 14, 2007 5:49 PM

Next up, some LA city fathers want to throw money at the NFL to guarantee a new stadium that will bring a football team to LA.

At the risk of getting off-topic ... We're not likely to see an NFL team in Los Angeles anytime soon because a team-less Los Angeles is far more valuable to the league than any team in the city would be. You see, whenever a team owner wants his city to build him a new stadium at taxpayer expense, full of luxury suites that make SCA's flip with joy, all he has to do is tell city officials that if they don't kowtow to his wishes he'll just pack up and move to Los Angeles. These threats make sense because Los Angeles is a natural location for an NFL team, being the country's second-largest city and all. Threatening to move to Las Vegas or Orlando wouldn't have the same credibility.

Posted by: Peter on October 14, 2007 9:54 PM

Chris White covered most of my answers to Pat.

However, Pat wrote, "One thing that needs to be done is put some sort of cap on the amount that can be awarded in malpractice suits,..."

California's state legislature did that years ago and it hasn't reduced health care insurance premiums here, in one of the largest insurance markets in the country. Your suggestion that people who reach age 60 (or was it 65) become forced to provide their own health insurance will simply leave most of them with no health insurance. Getting into a private plan at that age, especially with preexisting conditions, is either impossible or staggeringly costly. And the alternative for seniors, HMOs, is nearly as bad as no insurance. I saw this first hand with my father in the late '80s.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on October 15, 2007 5:23 AM

They wouldn't have no insurance. Thats a canard. They just wouldn't have access to the most up-to-date treatments.

They would have access to a standard of care that would have been top of the line a few years ago, and which is infinitessimaly better than most humans have had for most of history.

Posted by: Thursday on October 15, 2007 4:52 PM

I think a Democratic presidency would make a lot of these stories go away. Not the issues themselves but the stories about them.

If Hillary is elected the MSM will wake up to find that things are not as dire as they have been telling us for the past 8 years.

Posted by: Pat Hobby on October 15, 2007 6:41 PM

Chris White writes: "I am more convinced that most of the problems with health care in this country are precisely because it is structured as a system of interlocking (primarily profit making) private enterprises rather than being "socialized." The profit incentives are almost all oriented away from patient needs and covering everyone toward maximizing investor returns..."

But Chris, most goods and services in the US are provided by for-profit entities and these services regularly provide excellent and satisying products to their customers. So the problem isn't with capitalism - it has to do with the system of incentives that affect health care.

Posted by: jult52 on October 18, 2007 6:15 AM

And to the rest of the disaster-mongers here: get a grip. Look at the size of the problems the world faced in 1935 and 1955 and compare them with today's issues.

The Singularity is Near.

Posted by: jult52 on October 18, 2007 6:17 AM

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