Guest Post: The Sky Is (Not) Falling: A “Little More Chicken” Tale

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Of Two Minds contributor Eric A.

The Sky Is (not) Falling: a “Little More Chicken” Tale

Lately John Michael Greer has been popping up in the blogosphere with well-thought and well-researched insights about the Arc of Empires throughout history. He proposes that like Spengler and others have proposed, Empire rises in a certain recognizable fashion, peaks in a certain fashion, but most importantly falls in a predictable fashion.

Any cursory look at history will tell you this is true, but is likewise easily understood from systems analysis: an Empire, by definition, is the process of extracting wealth from the periphery to the core. What happens once the colonies, frontier, the developing world is already paying all possible tribute?

The only remaining expansion is to both expand the periphery by colonizing ones own citizens, and to shrink the Core to ever-fewer insiders, both of which we see now. Ultimately, the core becomes an oligarchy of a few dozen while the colonized people become everyone else in the system--a 99.9999% vs the 0.0001%, an unstable situation that predictably collapses.

Greer has two returning points with this: one is that this never leads to the end of the world, and the implied point I remarked on in my previous essay: that these things unfold in their own time over the expanse of many years.

The attraction to believe in cultural, financial, or ecological Armageddon is deeply compelling. One can even find data to support these beliefs from commentators or scientists that share one’s outlook. However, in over 2,000 years this has never turned out to be the case. Let’s take two sudden and remarkable ones: The Crash of 1929 and "The Year Without a Summer" in 1816.

The Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression is well-known by this chart:

A 90% loss of value for the proxy of the largest US companies. This was accompanied by the closure of hundreds of banks and the confiscation of savings accounts, along with a drop of trade by 60%, GDP by 25%, and a rise in unemployment to 25%.

This was a sudden, severe break in events that had broad, deep repercussions. Was it severe, unprecedented even? Yes. Yet even with a crash of this magnitude, what happened? 99% of people tightened their belts, made do, and carried on.

There were points of extreme desperation recorded by photographers such as Dorothea Lange and writers like Steinbeck, however, this under-reports the same conditions throughout the previous 100 years of Industrialization, such as the Massachusetts child mill workers, the Ludlow Coal Massacre of 1914, or the beating or shooting workers during the steel strike of 1919. Although the numbers and locations fluctuate, there are poor people and oppressive conditions in all countries at all times. We need to compare the average trouble to the peak trouble.

So let’s compare: you see the unemployment rate on the right hand of the above chart? That’s us. Statisticians such as John Williams, using a consistent methodology between then and now, mark our present unemployment rate as high as 25% -- the same as during the Great Depression. He also records a 2% drop in GDP every year for 8 years, or a 20% drop in GDP—same as the Great Depression. How did it feel in 1935? How does it feel now to you now? Because that’s how it was.

So what should we do to prepare for the Great Depression? Well, I hate to inform you, but it’s already too late. We’re already in it, so you already know what should you have done in 2001, 2007 or now.

Is it Armageddon? Would stocking beans or bullets in 1999 or 2005 have been helpful to you? For more on this subject, you could read reports from other countries where similar things have happened, writer FerFal from Argentina for instance, or Selco from the war in Serbia, but I think you’ll find the same thing: the problem did not happen that fast, nor did the world end. Challenges were mostly composed of steadily increasing economic pressure with ever-increasing risks of failure. Rent, taxes, debt, sickness, crime: the same challenges as in the good times, only harder.

But the Depression is surely light stuff: let’s move on to an epic ecological catastrophe, the "Year Without a Summer".

In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia exploded with earth-shaking force. It was the largest eruption in 1,300 years, with an explosion audible in Sumatra 2,000km away. Volcanic ash filled the skies, blotting out the sun, and snow fell in Albany in June. River ice flowed in Pennsylvania in July. Frost fell every month of the year in areas of Canada, the US, and Europe. The entire crop was lost before the bitter and endless winter of 1817 where deep-harbor New York recorded temperatures of -26 F (-32 C). Prices rose suddenly through the western world and food riots broke out. This is as close as the modern world has ever come to a nuclear holocaust and nuclear winter.

Never heard of it? That’s odd. You would think the largest explosion and climate event in 1,300 years would have more effect on daily life.

And that’s my point. The world doesn’t end. Nor does it change very quickly or without going through a long series of steps.

I could recount the 85 Million killed in World War II, the 200 Million killed by the Black Death in the 1300s, Communist purges of Stalin and Mao and so on, but the point is the same: things don’t change very quickly or very much. In fact, we’re already in the middle of the next great crisis and you didn’t notice. So are things going to suddenly change tomorrow, next week, next year?

I bring this up because what we THINK will happen determines what we DO in response. For many this has been ignoring risks completely, complete with buying new houses, investing in that 401k, and taking Caribbean Cruises. For others, it’s to stock up on guns, canned goods, and bunker down waiting for the zombie apocalypse.

I propose neither way is sensible, because of the way the world changes ponderously and one step at a time.

Our emotional desire to find either a return to normal or an instant end of everything colors our approach, fatally compromising our ability to accurately prepare for real challenges that are far more likely or even certain. However, comparing to previous crises we can reliably predict what is most likely to happen and where our real risks lie.

As there are a constellation of risks, let’s just take one example of risk and its solution, that I’m personally familiar with: Food Security.

Do you need food security? With 1 in 5 Americans on food stamps and a 25% unemployment rate, I’m going to guess that if you don’t need it already, there’s a good possibility you will in the future.

And that’s only for economic reasons: looking back over history we find major wars with rationing at 70-year intervals. Then there are unique events like Tambora, the Dust Bowl, or has been lately suggested, Global Warming and/or violent weather.

In addition, modern food crops are far more concentrated than ever in history. Concentrated into geographical regions with certain requirements such as oil-hungry irrigation, planting, tilling, and harvesting equipment that will be expensive if not impossible to continue. Concentrated also genetically, where 5 major crops account for most of the calories grown on earth, and of those, a huge proportion are similar strains (corn, wheat) if not near-clones of each other (bananas, Holsteins). This is in addition to the ever-fewer seed producers and the enormous increase in GMO and terminator seeds.

And this is presuming that we have the money to buy food or that we won’t be turned out of our homes by eviction, foreclosure, or war.

With such a variety of factors, how do we create a food plan? By looking to history, of course.

Starting with our two events, how could one have best prepared? Preparations for 1816 are simple: enough food for 1-2 years along with a reserve of heating fuel for the pounding winter of '17. Alternately, you could say that food was available even in this hard time—the problem was price, not availability. So arguably one could have stored a year’s worth of either food or money.

At the same time, if you had stored food only, the 1816 economy was 90% farming: you might have lost the house or farm with the lack of crop income while town dwellers could be evicted away from their pantry when high fuel prices caused them to miss rent. Looked at another way, you could say that food rose sharply in price relative to money and rent. So if you had food in store, you could have sold it to get by--under those conditions, storing food WAS storing money.

How does this compare to the 1929? In the Depression, wholesale prices collapsed and food got far cheaper—but only if you could find the scarce money to buy it with. The Depression wasn’t over in a year, either, but lasted from '29 through '39, then through 1945 with the war rationing for over 20 years of grinding hardship. In Europe, the food and fuel crisis persisted far longer as whole nations were tediously reconstructed from rubble.

While storing food might have helped a little, it’s clearly unrealistic both to buy 10 years’ worth ahead of time and expect to store it safely through the greatest turmoil of the 20th century. If instead you had stored money, you might have done well in America, but only if you were outside stocks, bonds, banks, commodities and real estate. And storing money in the battle zones of Europe would not have been much help at all.

Two very different events with two very different responses, and with food concentration and weather volatility, our needs are different again today. Is there any way to create food stability at low cost, with broad genetic, political, and weather stability with low storage requirements?

Let me ask you a question: why are you storing food in the first place? Is it to eat it? And where does food come from? From the cupboard, from the store, from your paycheck? No. It comes from the ground.

We live in a money paradigm. All things are delivered for money (trade). All goods are compared to money (prices). Then we live and die by our trade and the money-signals that prices give us. Stop trade, wobble the prices around, and we starve by millions.

We also swim in a consumer paradigm. We work to get people halfway around the world buy our stuff so that we can buy stuff back from them. Why? If you want an apple, which is easier: to work, trade that work for money through the online banking system, have money load that apple on a tractor in New Zealand, ship it to a warehouse, a cargo ship, a truck, a store, your car, then your mouth? Or is it easier just to go in the back yard and pick one?

Worried about prices? All those middle men must be paid, from New Zealand to New Hampshire. Which do you think is cheaper? Which do you think is more reliable? Which do you think tastes better?

What I’m saying is, if you want food, then GO MAKE FOOD. Be a producer, not a consumer. And the best part is that if you produce food, whether by seed or tree, it will produce over and over for 10, 20 or 100 years. Through the long Depression. You can sell it in a war or food interruption. You can pick varieties that do not require inputs of oil or water and are not susceptible to genetic crisis. Even if you get turned out, seeds are small, legal, valuable, and the skill to grow them is easily transported. For stability, for price, for size, for long-term reliability, nothing beats making your own.

How do you get cheap food stability? Make it yourself. In Part Two I’ll cover a variety of ways ordinary people can create their own food plan.

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Dareconomics's picture

The sky may not be falling, but the economy remains tepid.  The longer it remains in this state, the more vulnerable it becomes to shocks.

CPL's picture

Well the sky isn't falling.


As long as you don't include debt loads, derivatives and inflation.  Charts are all but useless now.

Crisismode's picture

The sky is not falling . . . yet.


It is merely being stuffed with millions of tons of greenhouse gases, each and every day.

When the sky has had enough of this smoke blown in its face,

it will fall, and fall hard.

And after that happens, there will be nothing but a small fraction of the smoke-blowers left.



Gringo Viejo's picture

I feel much better now.

valley chick's picture

To quote: 

I bring this up because what we THINK will happen determines what we DO in response. For many this has been ignoring risks completely, complete with buying new houses, investing in that 401k, and taking Caribbean Cruises. For others, it’s to stock up on guns, canned goods, and bunker down waiting for the zombie apocalypse.

I propose neither way is sensible, because of the way the world changes ponderously and one step at a time


I quit reading at this point.  I'm calling this piece BS.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Your solution will be determined by the problem you perceive yourself to be facing.  There, feel better?

valley chick's picture

Never felt better.  But then again I take responsibility for my own actions and plan accordingly.  :)

RockyRacoon's picture

...which is precisely what the article was emphasizing.  Anyone who stops reading something for such a trivial reason will starve or be robbed of their valuables.   Unless they are simply sociopathic or psychopathic, which could be your situation.

valley chick's picture

RR, respectively I do not see gardens everywhere...even my own property has its limitations...however, I have networked with a local farmer and has been working fine with him and myself.  Good luck in everyone trying their hand at gardening but for those that can not there are other options.  As I am located on lakefront property I can also fish along with having another water source.  As I have mentioned before throughout this thread, my lifestyle involves canning and being self sufficient including security without it being an Armageddon situation.  I am already helping neighbors that have lost their job and no more unemployment $$$$.  Good luck. 

Nostradamus's picture

The fact that this man is comparing 1929 America to what we have presently tells me that he is unable to distinguish apples from oranges.  The financial situation in America today is truly unprecedented historically, and completely unsustainable.  How long can the fed continue to print money at the rate of tens of billions of dollars per month without the people coming to the conclusion that the printing must continue forever in order for the system to continue functioning?  We are approaching an end game here.  Think about it.  If there is no collapse coming, then wealth, productivity, and prosperity really and truly can be created from a printing press by the sheer will of man.  And man has in fact become God. 

gjp's picture

+1, and nor do Argentina or other recent examples of single-country economic dislocations apply.

Global supply chain completely dependent on trust in paper promises, huge swaths of the populace disconnected from the production process.  What do you think happens when trust fails?  I wouldn't be so sanguine ...

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

I agree we are in the Great Depression.

But the difference this time is, there are still shoes to drop.  Like, for eg. the USD as world reserve currency.  That one is going to be messy.

new game's picture

food lines = food stamps

work projects = disability, unemployment welfare fraud

see the difference.

Charles writes great stuff


this time it is different.

we are truely at almost every limit the natural world can provide without substanial conservation of usage, which will not happen until crisses.  Only we are talking 7.1 billion restless peoples interdependent on each others good and services.

very few producers to even come close to sustaining a semblence of survival by sharing and helping each other because; the have nots are the vast majority with zero plan except violence once desparate- check, plan to get to a remote location with a 223 or 308 with a vast view...shoot first and frist for something of value later.

Errol's picture

Also, during the 1930s depression a majority of Americans either still lived on a farm or were raised on one, and had some familiarity with the basics of food production (enabling "Victory Gardens").  The current wallymart generation think "picking up a hoe" is a sexual recreation activity.

valley chick's picture

Correct Nostradamus.  It appears he has a hard on for any kind of food preparations.  As a canner it is not just done for the end of the world but to actually eat better.  He is clueless.

RockyRacoon's picture

How would you know that?  You stated that you did not read the article.

valley chick's picture

Thanks for the laugh RR.  My family was raised on a farm.  Heard many a story about it...and oh...they did help feed their neighbors.

Dick Buttkiss's picture

That's why this will be the Greater Depression. After all, the reason we're in Great Depression territory but don't feel the full impact of it is because the welfare state, kept afloat by ponzinomics, hasn't yet gone bankrupt (via hyperinflation*). But when (not if) it does, the ship of state will sink, taking millions of Americans with it.

* Yes, there could be deflation first, but the Fed's frantic efforts to halt it will get out of control when the rest of the world, having sought safety in the dollar due to the race to the bottom elsewhere around the world, flees it to buy hard assets, even as one or more crypto-currencies (e.g., Bitcoin) provides a viable alternative to government fiat.

Professor Fate's picture

We all know the American economy is in depression.  More people now on food stamps than with private sector full time employment.  And it is getting worse each month.  Unlike 1929, our curent welfare state and Washington's propaganda machine simply mask the reality of what is happening to America's growing population of "near illiterate".  Over time, people tend to adapt to their economic environment.  Americans are adapting (in droves) to living within the means of government handouts.  They will continue, until something occurs to stop the gravy train.  In my opinion (maybe yes...maybe no), that something is the end of QE.  I seriously question if the US can finance the ever-growing welfare state at today's interest rates.  The Bernank know he needs to pull a "Greenspan Houdini Move" and get out of Dodge.  I doubt there is an exit here for "DeadFed".   Poor Yellin.  She just needs to say no.  The "perv" Spitzer wants to run for Comptroller of New York.  Let's increase his pay grade and let him be the next ChairSatan.

Fate the Magnificent
"Push the Button, Max"   

Winston Smith 2009's picture

"Greer has two returning points with this: one is that this never leads to the end of the world"

It still won't be the end of the world, but the world economies have never been so globally intertwined before nor have central banks universally taken the insane steps they have since 2008.  It will be the worst crash ever, but not the end of the world.

Nostradamus's picture

No, it won't be the end of the world.  But it will certainly be the end of the world as we know it.  People will actually have to start working in order to eat and stay warm.  Imagine the horror.

Jayda1850's picture

I'm not looking for the apocalypse. I'm just looking for a reckoning and some goddamn accountability. 

Nostradamus's picture

A reckoning indeed.  A reckoning by which the immutable Law of Nature finally exerts itself, thereby annihilating those self-serving, utopian precepts that man, believing himself to be wise, so foolishly erected.  America's perceived wealth and prosperity are a Tower of Babel.  It will not remain standing.   

Things that go bump's picture

Not the end of the world, just the end of the world for most of the present population. I think most fall into the "useless eater" category and 6.5 billion of us are scheduled to be terminated. 

new game's picture

the fab. retrace from the great pop explosion of 1900 to present.

about half gone =3.5 billion for future fertilizer.

Things that go bump's picture

That is still pretty bleak. Even the black death only killed about 1/3 of the population in Europe and it was a disaster though those who survived reaped great benefit once things settled down. There certainly was a shortage of labor at the time and there is a diary still extant of the chatelaine of some barony complaining about the serfs getting uppity and wanting to be paid and paid well for their work.  

disabledvet's picture

i prefer fishing myself. i know "but you sit around all day not doing anything." and your point is?

tip e. canoe's picture

didya know you could grow 30x protein per acre in fresh water than you can on land?

both vegetation and animal.

long fish ponds and swales.

Marco's picture

Water has the unfortunate tendency to evaporate ... without lots of glass to create a closed environment for the water we can't really increase the fresh water surface area on a large scale.

tip e. canoe's picture

true, but with 30x more productivity per area, you don't really have to do it on such a large scale, more like small scales replicated many times.    anything over 2-3 meters deep is overkill for most fresh water fish species anyhow.

growing trees on the sunside can help with evaporation a bit, so can overflowing to swales, which are heavily mulched.   so can growing water lillies & cattails/bulrush.

and what is cheaper property tax wise, a 1/2 acre pond or 15 acres of land?   what's cheaper to maintain: a school of fish or a herd of cows?

folks gotta stop obsessing about how to feed the world and start obsessing about how to feed themselves & their family as efficiently as possible and then scale up from there.    the BIG solutions will arise on their own with enough people working on the small solutions, innovating as they go along.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

1+ tip e. Analyzing your environment is the key. When we move to our 10 acres in east San Diego we were a bit apprehensive about raising food in an arid environment. We can't raise cattle because our well doesn't produce enough for pasture but goats and sheep do quite well. We can grow practically anything as long as we respect the seasons. Our neighbors produce so much they're now selling it at the farmers market. Its amazing how much we can raise even in an difficult climate. However I must admit it would be impossible for San Diego to feed itself because it is dependent on imported water (95% of residents).

We're looking into tilapia because we have a small shaded area we may be able to get a pond established. Our biggest fear is the Shit hitting the fan before we can get everything set up.


tip e. canoe's picture

respectfully disagree with the impossibility.    exhibit A: your neighbor.   more folks just need to learn how to harvest water and build soil.   there's plenty of surplus organic matter coming out of SD.   just think of the cardboard that gets thrown away on a daily basis.   you could make a giant mulch pit, dump the cardboard and kitchen scraps (or better yet, go to the beach and comb some kelp) and grow yourself a patch of banana trees or coconuts or bamboo.

so jealous of your climate actually.   wanna trade?

2000 year old food forest in Morocco (about as arid as they come and matches SD latitude & distance from ocean perfectly).   check out those olive trees.   you want long-term food security?   date palms & olives & figs & coffee in the understory.    that's riding out SHTF in style!

here's a fun exercise for you and mr.miffed : find your property on googEarth and then overlay a topographic map.   where those contour lines are, that's where you dig swales/plant trees.   dig your pond just on/above the contour line.

just found this for ya, free workshop:

if you go, ask him how to dig swales/ponds cheaply.   if he knows his shit, he'll point you in the right direction.

happy digging!



Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Thank you so much dear Tip e! I signed up for the newsletter but can't make the seminar due to a prior engagement. I will buy the book.

Ever since I saw a TED talk with Allan Savory and the reversal of desertification, I've had hope we may make it here. In fact I hope to eventually recreate his idea on a smaller scale on a few acres I've set aside.

My neighbor with the bountiful harvest originally used to have an earthworm farm. His soil is scary good! I was a bit depressed when we moved here...pretty much a mountain of sand. But, in 13 years and lots of chickens and mulch it's looking quite reasonable. Our advantage is basically a year round growing season. Our challenges are large temperature ranges ( up to 110 in summer and as low as 25 in winter) we have a seasonal creek that can have huge water flows in a good rainy season. We are planning to dig out a basin to see if we can capture some of this. Luckily this is in an area quite hidden so, hopefully, no government jackass will prevent us. I've heard some people have been fined for rain water gathering.

Thanks for all your tips! Don't you raise passion fruit? Mine is going gangbusters this year. The vine is over 50 feet now and a good crop is on its way. I planted it as a joke figuring it would never make it being a tropical plant. Who would have thunk it?


tip e. canoe's picture

that's why swales and hugelmounds are so great.   the jackasses don't even realize they're rain water collectors :)

funny you mention passion fruit, i've got a potted vine sitting near me desk, so it's my constant companion, lurking between outside & inside (literally/metaphorically).  

you know why they call it passion fruit yes?

btw, if you dig that pond, you could make a nice little subtropical microclimate, no problemo.

there are things that we don't know we know.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

You have an inside passion fruit? How absolutely sweet! How do you keep your friend contained to such a small space? Mine seems determined to roam outside its assigned boundaries with relish. Sensual beauty is the passion vine. In flavor as well as looks. Yes I know the story. Mr miffed gets a bit tired of passion fruit when we harvest( I get creative putting it in everything). For me, the sensual tropical flavor is pure heaven.


ebworthen's picture

I have to disagree about plodding forward if the SHTF this time.

At no time in human history have so many relied upon mechanized farming methods dependent upon oil.

If there is a cataclysmic event, either climate or economic related, billions will be utterly helpless; primarily in the "developed" regions of the world.

Never in the history of Humanity have so few been so unable to produce sustenance; much less store it or prepare it.

Post WWII began the dependency on petroleum to produce enough food via tillage, fertilization, pesticides, harvest, transport and production to feed the population.

In a little over 100 years those living on a farm went from 42% of the population to 2% (U.S./Europe).

It will be a massive never before seen die-off of world population if this supply chain is interrupted.

Biggest house of cards Humanity has ever built.

So yes, learn to produce your own.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

It depends how quickly shit happens.  If things go awry over a growing season or two or three then people have a chance to cope.

If it is something sudden, and long-lasting, like a disruption to oil supplies, then its more problematic.  But the key would be to either be prepared or act quickly.  He who panics first, panics best?

ebworthen's picture

Large metropolitan areas and cities like L.A., Seattle, Houston, D.C. have only a 3-4 day supply of food on shelves and in warehouses.  Potable water is even worse if pumps don't run.

"Just-in-time" inventory efficiencies have guaranteed life threatening shortages if there is any interruption.  Think Katrina X 100.

valley chick's picture

Agreed.  And repeatedly you see people caught not prepared.  Maybe because I am use to living in an area where i have seen repeated hurricanes an ice storms, I have found myself not dependent on the govt.  Nothing to have power out for a week in my area.  I have learned to have multi LP tanks dedicated to a generator and can schedule use of generator for the well and freezers etc.  As I have networked with a local farmer, I can alot of my own food not just for emergencies but for quality.  I have a few hens for fresh eggs.  Maybe this article is geared for city folks but found it to be more like propaganda.

RockyRacoon's picture
Propaganda: Noun
  1. Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
  2. The dissemination of such information as a political strategy.

Doesn't fit the definition.  Actually, you think you are so much smarter than the author that you dismiss what he offers out of hand.   Oh, and you didn't read the article, so how do you know all this?

falak pema's picture

+100 as I have tried to explain also.

venturen's picture

maybe he missed the great farmer collaspe of the 1970's where fermer after farmer lost everything.

Cursive's picture

Shout out to FerFal!

For more on this subject, you could read reports from other countries where similar things have happened, writer FerFal from Argentina for instance, or Selco from the war in Serbia, but I think you’ll find the same thing: the problem did not happen that fast, nor did the world end. Challenges were mostly composed of steadily increasing economic pressure with ever-increasing risks of failure. Rent, taxes, debt, sickness, crime: the same challenges as in the good times, only harder.


Seer's picture

Compared to the US, these are small countries.  AND, when these other countries encountered these problems the rest of the world was still functioning: figure that "outside help" occurred.

There IS a problem with always thinking that this time it WON'T be different.  Such would suggest that no other outcome is possible because it hadn't happened before: that logic would also suggest that one should never get cancer because one had never had it before*.  Clearly we HAVE experienced NEW angles on things, otherwise ALL actions would tend to produce the same results.

* I'm playing very loose with this one, but hopefully the point is made.

BTW - A "country" is an idea, it's a virtual construct, in which case IT can NOT really die.  Not the case for those who might dewll under it's virtual boundaries... if one person would survive would that mean that that person's country also survived?  If not one person then how many?  Or, is it just dependent upon some governing structure, perhaps a handful of "elites?"

keymoo's picture

I live in a skyskraper in NY, I could grow a chilli plant near my window, and maybe a tomato. But I'd be dead of starvation before it was ready to eat.