Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


2009 - Living with an economic downturn - a view from Russia

Monday 16 February 2009

At the Long Now group run by Stewart Brand, they have regular guest speakers on a whole range of topics. Recently they had Russian Dmitry Orlov who discussed what happened in Russia during the economic crisis in the early 1990's and what people around the world might need to do to prepare for the current one. I have posted Stewart Brand's posting in its entirety below. Two salient points from the posting: '...Orlov noted that women in Russia handled collapse pragmatically, putting on their garden gloves, whereas middle-aged men dissolved into lonely drunks...' There's much to consider in the posting though I don't hold as dark a view for Australia as Dmitry poses for the US

You can sign up for the longnow list serve group here; and you can view Dmitry's posting of his speech here 
With vintage Russian black humor, Orlov described the social collapse 
he witnessed in Russia in the 1990s and spelled out its practical
lessons for the American social collapse he sees as inevitable. The
American economy in the 1990s described itself as "Goldilocks"---just
the right size---when in fact is was "Tinkerbelle," and one day the
clapping stops. As in Russia, the US made itself vulnerable to the
decline of crude oil, a trade deficit, military over-reach, and
financial over-reach.

Russians were able to muddle through the collapse by finding ways to
manage 1) food, 2) shelter, 3) transportation, and 4) security.

Russian agriculture had long been ruined by collectivization, so
people had developed personal kitchen gardens, accessible by public
transit. The state felt a time-honored obligation to provide bread,
and no one starved. (Orlov noted that women in Russia handled
collapse pragmatically, putting on their garden gloves, whereas
middle-aged men dissolved into lonely drunks.) Americans are good at
gardening and could shift easily to raising their own food, perhaps
adopting the Cuban practice of gardens in parking lots and on roofs
and balconies.

As for shelter, Russians live in apartments from which they cannot be
evicted. The buildings are heat-efficient, and the communities are
close enough to protect themselves from the increase in crime.
Americans, Orlov said, have yet to realize there is no lower limit to
real estate value, nor that suburban homes are expensive to maintain
and get to. He predicts flight, not to remote log cabins, but to
dense urban living. Office buildings, he suggests, can easily be
converted to apartments, and college campuses could make instant
communities, with all that grass turned into pasture or gardens.
There are already plenty of empty buildings in America; the cheapest
way to get one is to offer to caretake it.

The rule with transportation, he said, is not to strand people in
nonsurvivable places. Fuel will be expensive and hoarded. He noted
that the most efficient of all vehicles is an old pickup fully loaded
with people, driving slowly. He suggested that freight trains be
required to provide a few empty boxcars for hoboes. Donkeys, he
advised, provide reliable transport, and they dine as comfortably on
the Wall Street Journal as they did on Pravda.

Security has to take into account that prisons will be emptied (by
stages, preferably), overseas troops will be repatriated and
released, and cops will go corrupt. You will have a surplus of
mentally unstable people skilled with weapons. There will be crime
waves and mafias, but you can rent a policeman, hire a soldier.
Security becomes a matter of local collaboration. When the formal
legal structure breaks down, adaptive improvisation can be pretty

By way of readiness, Orlov urges all to prepare for life without a
job, with near-zero burn rate. It takes practice to learn how to be
poor well. Those who are already poor have an advantage.

--Stewart Brand

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