US Part I: Sick Man in America


Picture from 1974 – first oil crisis

I will attempt to write about the difficulties which currently faces, and which will face the US in the future, and why it is probably a good idea to move to Europe rather than stay.

One thing that struck me is that even though Sweden has one of the highest prices of oil in the world. Yet it is the people of the US who fall down on their knees with prices that are actually cheaper than those here. Some have gone out of business because they can’t afford to upkeep their car. What am I, from my more European perspective, to make of this absurdity?

One obvious thing, as I described in a previous blog post is of course the heavy reliance on cars. America is a car culture. Though most of the Western world, and some areas outside the West has started to adopt this car culture, no country has modelled their society as much in the shape of this machine than has the US. This has led to the dismantling of commuting, and what was once the most formidable railroad system in the world. Instead of efficient cities, the trend has been towards urban sprawl, and an extensive construction of the most hopelessly inefficient type of residential areas of the world, namely suburbia. And heck, even the road system has been falling apart since the 80’s due to underfinancing. Oil prices before the economic crisis, and now afterwards are rising much faster in the US than in Europe, and showing how inaquedately prepared the US is for Peak Oil.

Why did the US decide to tread this path, though? One obvious factor is the amount of oil historically produced in the US. In fact, ~60% of all oil in the world was produced by the US in 1942. High on the agenda by both businessmen and politicians after the war was how to make the American populace consume more, and thus keep the economical machine spinning. There was incredible business gains to be made through having people wanting to have, and later actually requiring a car, and the political establishment were happy to build the infrastructure (ie motorways). Oil and the car industry helped fuel, metaphorically and literally, an American economical boom lasting for nearly three decades.

Good things didn’t last forever, though. Around the early 70’s American oil production peaked. Despite being the most technologically advanced nation in the world, the US couldn’t find new sources of oil, and oil production has been inexorably declining ever since. The US might’ve still enjoyed good economical times, but it untimely coincided with the 1973 oil crisis, leading to hard economical times. Around this time the US also moved towards a more liquid money supply, and consumption increasingly driven by credit cards. The effects we see today, with the financial crisis fresh in mind.

What effects does it have on a nation which has a transport system and infrastructure based around oil, a commodity whose price might reach 200 dollars a barrel in a very near future? One thing is that it won’t be very easy for the US to simply build itself out of that, with better means of transportation, energy and so on. Infrastructure is something that can take many years to build, and the investments needed to finance this cannot be attained within the US’ current political and economical system, due to the mastodontical debt of the country. It can thus be inferred that if the oil price rises as high as 200$ a barrel, the US is on very thin ice. Perhaps one can make a parallel to the decision of the Chinese in the 15th century to burn all their ocean-going ships. They were the foremost naval power of the world, but due to an idiosyncratic decision that made sense at the time, they lost that lead. Badly.

Perhaps one, then, can say that the US is like a rotten wooden house. There has been attempts to make this house look prettier and more attractive, but it is fairly rotten nevertheless. A very literal example of this would be Greener Grass Company, making the houses of bankrupted owners more valuable and “makes the neighbourhood look decent again”. Perhaps a few kicks at this rotten foundation would make it collapse, triggering a civil war or similar. Or maybe this facade would actually work, with government and/or corporations taking a greater control of the country? In either case, it doesn’t look too attractive for the people living there. In short, I think Americans better leave this perverse country.

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2 Responses to “US Part I: Sick Man in America”

  1. Random Dent Says:

    This is exactly the problem in the UK. Our public transport system is a pile of crap and expensive so we all commute by car – then all the major cities enforce congestion charges and tolls. There’s no room, or it’s too expensive to live nearer to work, and there’s no work in villages because the cities destroy local business. It’s insane.

  2. US Part II: Most Equal Society « Procrastination Embodied Says:

    […] Procrastination Embodied A Study in the Productive Effects of Procrastination « Sick Man in America […]

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