Dmitry Orlov's Book--Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects
Dmitry Orlov's new book, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, was published very recently. I pre-ordered a copy because Dmitry has had first hand experience with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he believes, as I do, that economic collapse is likely to come first, if a society is on an unsustainable course. The great mystery to me is what lies on the other side of an economic collapse.
In this book, Dmitry gives his view of what may be on the other side, and how one might prepare for it. Dmitry starts with a recipe for collapse of a modern military-industrial power:
The ingredients I like to put in my superpower collapse soup are: a severe and chronic shortage in the production of crude oil (the magic elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening trade deficit, a runaway military budget and ballooning foreign debt. The heat and agitation can be provided most efficaciously by a humiliating military defeat and widespread fear of a looming catastrophe.
He then goes on to explain how the Soviet Union followed this recipe in the late 1980s, leading to its collapse, and how the United States, with its conflict in Iraq, may be following a similar course.
Many readers are familiar with Dmitry's talk, Closing the 'Collapse Gap': the USSR was Better Prepared for Collapse than the US. In that talk, as in the book "Reinventing Collapse", he points out that the USSR provided housing, transportation, fuel, and garden plots for Soviet citizens, so when financial collapse came, citizens could still get along fairly well. The United States lacks this safety network, so financial collapse is likely to be more of a problem here.
The kinds of things Dmitry expects after financial collapse are shortages of fuel, food, medicine and consumer items; outages of electricity, natural gas and water; transportation breakdowns; hyperinflation; widespread layoffs, plus a lot of despair, confusion, violence and lawlessness. According to him, we should not expect "any grand rescue plans, innovative technology programs, or miracles of social cohesion".
The political establishment is likely to remain intact, at least initially, and will attempt to keep up appearances. There will be paralysis due to the government's inability to spend money in the usual way. There will be less respect for authority, and many laws will be ignored. There is likely to be a flood of internal refugees, as places that require heat or air conditioning become uninhabitable.
In this setting, Dmitry expects a new informal economy to emerge -- one that is based more on barter, and is often semi-criminal. One of the biggest sources of revenue initially will be dismantling and reselling parts of what are now stranded assets--homes that cannot longer be used, airplanes that are no longer needed, and even equipment used in some factories.
Dmitry has some thoughts on how one survives and even thrives in this new setting. He mentions the possibility of a new political party, the "Collapse Party". If it is clear collapse is inevitable and the current political parties have nothing to offer, the logical thing would be to have a Collapse Party, to dismantle institutions that have no future and to save what can be saved. He doesn't think such a party is likely to succeed, however.
If it is not really possible to mitigate, he believes that what one must do is adapt--psychologically as much as any other way. In the new order, relationships with other people will become more important, and relationships based on deeds, contracts, notes, and the like will recede in importance. We will need to lower our standards as to what is acceptable in many areas, including body odor, straight teeth, and medical care. Dmitry has several creative suggestions for occupations. Dmitry suggests that some may choose to be nomadic, since there are advantages to having multiple bases of operation.
I very much enjoyed the book. Dmitry describes his book as a "series of intentionally provocative thought experiments". None of us can know what is ahead, but Dmitry offers us some helpful insights. Dmitry has a wonderful sense of humor, so we find ourselves laughing rather than crying about the future.