The Cost Of Procrastination: America’s Broken Economy

"Whatever availability you put down when I hired you is what I expect," a self-important man in a denim button-up said, scolding an earnest-looking teenager walking next to him in the produce section. I was buying avocados. I've been forced into large grocery stores lately. When the locally-owned places aren't out of my favorites, they're gouging customers for the privilege of not driving 20 miles to the nearest national chain, where the lines are long and everyone's irritable. Honestly, it's n

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10 thoughts on “The Cost Of Procrastination: America’s Broken Economy

  1. A few thoughts.

    Think of an ice storm: liquid rain falls through a freezing atmosphere, becoming supercooled, then solidifying on contact with the frozen ground. A very graphic example of a system that is far from equilibrium suddenly approaching equilibrium. I think our economy has been like that–supercooled. The disruptions to our supercooled pre-pandemic economy include factors that are not solely due to the pandemic, in particular, dramatically reduced immigration during the Trump years and continuing into the pandemic. It will be very difficult to reach equilibrium (or even steady-state) again, and that new steady-state could look far different from 2019. We’re also going into an election year, and Americans are as divided as they’ve ever been, or at least as divided as they’ve been since the reconstruction. Expect careening.

    Another thought, regarding the switch to carbon-neutrality. I will support the switch and work towards it, but at this point I don’t think it’s going to happen. If you nudge the asteroid when it’s far enough from earth you can displace it, but the asteroid is too close. Technologists (e.g. Nathan Myhrvold) will argue that humans will come up with something, e.g. carbon capture, solar reflection, etc to compensate. But I think the incentive system is messed up, we’re already in a world that is decidedly NOT coming together to address global issues, but is instead cascading towards destabilization and conflict. When we’re faced with a near-term shortfall of energy, we will revert to fossil fuels, country-by-country, regardless of treaties. A heroin addict can’t just stop, no matter how good his intentions are. I think we’ll end up burning all the hydrocarbons we can find, come hell or “high water.” That’s my base case for planning (financial and otherwise).

    Finally, on the specific policies we followed at the outset of the pandemic: Could it have been otherwise? There is no provision for continuity planning in the power centers of the US government (even if there might be in certain corners, e.g. DoD). Donald Trump was the president of the United States, and the House of Representatives was in Democratic control. This ain’t Germany or Denmark (and it hasn’t been smooth sailing even in countries such as these that actually do plan for continuity).

  2. “Finding a “balance” that keeps the lights and the heat on while humanity shifts to energy sources that won’t doom future generations to climatic oblivion is proving to be quite an onerous task, mostly because we waited too long to get started.”
    Same with infrastructure. Inevitable breakdowns in the next generation could easily wreck our economy.

    Clearly, however, the real problem right now is that everyone wants their agenda to control everyone else’s. No one is willing to give an inch, on anything. No one wants to follow any rules, except their own. And that’s just here. There are now 200+ sovereign nations that all want a chance to make their own mistakes, satisfy their own greed, and subjugate the marginal groups in their societies, just like we do. And who are we to say they shouldn’t do those things just because they were late to the party. We had our chance to wreck the planet, and we did. We use 20-25% of the world’s resources, huge amounts of which we still waste, and do this with less than 5% of the world’s population. Now we have decided maybe it’s time to fix the problem, the way we want to. I don’t think giving in to the US will become the way of the world anytime soon. Imports just hit a record of nearly $100 billion last month. We need those guys. They have leverage. Germany just announced they are closing their last six nuclear power plants. In the short run at least, my guess is hello Russian nat gas (wind later, maybe, but can’t be stored effectively yet)

  3. In a desperate bid to inject some optimism, however macabre, into this comment thread, I’ll note that we may be reaching a point where many of these trends have grown so self-destructive that even the parties pushing discord, denial, and delay may be reaching their self-enlightenment threshold. After all, it’s no coincidence that in the Middle Ages, self-flagellation eventually led many to the enlightenment: “I should probably stop hitting myself. It hurts”. To wit: American conservatives, the traditional bastion of corporate interests, are hopefully feeling some pain knowing that anti-immigrant hysteria, milked for political points, has now bled the economy of labor to the point that every business donating to the Reps is paying for that particular stupidity through wage cost growth (other factors aside). Time for a conservative about-face there, but will money speak louder than racism? Similarly, American divisiveness has reached a point that international competitors have started using it against us on the global stage; eventually some degree of unity will come from that – likely under severe duress or, if we’re lucky, because we just get tired of listening to our own mass invective. The climate change deniers and procrastinators also may soon have their faces rubbed in cause and effect, courtesy of Thwaites or any number of increasingly blatant climate disasters that stubbornly won’t agree to hold off for a thousand years so we can shove the need for futuristic solutions off on our descendants. Rewriting the US coastline in the next decade might succeed where past effects have failed, in stirring legislators to action. Things are bad enough on various fronts that we may collectively start changing them (and, indeed, having markets change them for us), without waiting for political views to catch up with reality.

  4. Progressives building castles of sand in the sky. Which get blown to the four corners in the ballet box. Familiar pattern. I listen to NPR and the local wing-nut station. Why the wing-nuts too? Because I don’t want to get taken by surprise AGAIN! What I’m hearing is incessant utterly unrepentant diatribes of crazy. The attacks on Democrats and anyone they deem “lefties” reminds me of what I’ve heard happened on the radio in Rwanda.

    I wear camo (John Deere cap, work shirts, etc) when I pick up groceries at Wally World so I can subtly query the youngsters on their work conditions and their thoughts about the economy, Covid, Walmart, and whatever they want to talk about with an old geezer. I’m not picking up on any Progressive talking points so far. Quite the opposite, if they are neither reticent or so painfully ignorant/uniformed they’re to depressing to listen to. Sometimes, I’ll lay down a counter argument to whatever is making the rounds on wing-nut radio. Responses seem to be about half obliviousness and half anxious looks that suddenly cloud their faces suggesting they are uncomfortable with such heresy or they’ve never heard such notions. Of course, it could be a rational dread that the talk might veer in the direction of Politics at work. Their opinions are mostly parroted, which is interesting, however, these young folks are not reliable voters. And around here I have to think the reliable voters are going to be angry about inflation and Biden’s perceived Left turn after entering office. If they also take bear-market hits to their 401k, then lookout! One-third of the voters here are registered Independents. Their vote was Centrist as were the Never-Trumpers. Anger is not good for incumbents.

    But you know who NPR’s worst enemy is in the hinterlands? Same as it always is. NPR.

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