Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Retrotopia: A Question of Subsidies

This is the seventh installment of an exploration of some of the possible futures discussed on this blog, using the toolkit of narrative fiction. Our narrator visits a streetcar factory, asks some hard questions about the use of human labor in place of machines, and gets some answers he doesn’t expect...

The phone rang at 8 am sharp, a shrill mechanical sound that made me wonder if there was actually a bell inside the thing. I put down the Toledo Blade and got it on the second ring. “Hello?”

“Mr. Carr? This is Melanie Berger. I’ve got—well, not exactly good news, but it could be worse.”

I laughed. “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s up?”

“We’ve managed to get everyone to sit down and work out a compromise, but the President’s got to be involved in that. With any luck this whole business will be out of the way by this afternoon, and he’ll be able to meet with you this evening, if that’s acceptable.”

“That’ll be fine,” I said.

“Good. In the meantime, we thought you might want to make some of the visits we discussed with your boss earlier. If that works for you—”

“It does.”

“Can you handle being shown around by an intern? He’s a bit of a wooly lamb, but well-informed.” I indicated that that would be fine, and she went on. “His name’s Michael Finch. I can have him meet you at the Capitol Hotel lobby whenever you like.”

“Would half an hour from now be too soon?”

“Not at all. I’ll let him know.”

We said the usual polite things, and I hung up. Twenty-five minutes later I was down in the lobby, and right on time a young man in a trenchcoat and a fedora came through the doors. I could see why Berger had called him a wooly lamb; he had blond curly hair and the kind of permanently startled expression you find most often in interns, ingenues, and axe murderers. He looked around blankly even though I was standing in plain sight.

“Mr. Finch?” I said, crossing the lobby toward him. “I’m Peter Carr.”

His expression went even more startled than usual for a moment, and then he grinned. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Carr.  You surprised me—I was expecting to see someone dressed in that plastic stuff.”

“I’m not fond of being stared at,” I said with a shrug.

He nodded, as though that explained everything. “Ms. Berger told me you wanted to visit some of our industrial plants and the Toledo stock market. Unless you have something already lined up, we can head down to the Mikkelson factory first and go from there. We could take a cab if you like, or just catch the streetcar—the Green line goes within a block of the plant. Whatever you like.”

I considered that, decided that a good close look at Lakeland public transit was in order. “Let’s catch the streetcar.”

“Sure thing.”

We left the lobby, and I followed Finch’s lead along the sidewalk to the right. The morning was crisp and bright, with an edge of frost, and plenty of people were walking to work. A fair number of horsedrawn cabs rolled by, along with a very few automobiles. I thought about that as we walked. Toledo’s tier had a base date of 1950, or so the barber told me the day before, but I didn’t think that cars were anything like so scarce on American streets in that year.

We turned right and came to the streetcar stop, where a dozen people were already waiting. I turned to Finch. “The Mikkelson factory. What do they make?”

For answer he pointed up the street. Two blocks up,  the front end of a streetcar was coming into sight as it rounded the corner. “Rolling stock for streetcar lines. We’ve got three big streetcar manufacturers in the Republic, but Mikkelson’s the biggest. The Toledo system runs their cars exclusively.”

The streetcar finished the turn, sped up, and rolled to a stop in front of us. Strictly speaking, I suppose I should say “streetcars,” since there were four cars linked together, all of them painted forest green and yellow with brass trim. We lined up with the others, climbed aboard when our turn came, and Finch pushed a couple of bills down into the fare box and got a couple of paper slips—“day passes,” he explained—from the conductor. There were still seats available, and I settled into the window seat as the conductor rang a bell, ding-di-ding-di-ding, and the streetcar hummed into motion.

It was an interesting ride, in an odd way. I travel a lot, like most people in my line of work, and I’ve ridden top-of-the-line automated light rail systems in New Beijing and Brasilia. I could tell at a glance that the streetcar I was on cost a small fraction of the money that went into those high-end systems, but the ride was just as comfortable and nearly as fast. There were two employees of the streetcar system on board, a driver and a conductor, and I wondered how much of the labor cost was offset by the lower price of the hardware.

The streetscape rolled past. We got out of the retail district near my hotel and into a residential district, with a mix of apartment buildings and row houses and a scattering of other buildings: an elementary school with a playground outside, a public library, two churches, a couple of other religious buildings of various kinds, and then a big square building with a symbol above the door I recognized at once. I turned to Finch. “I wondered whether there were Atheist Assemblies here.”

“Oh, yes. Are you an Atheist, Mr. Carr?”

I didn’t see any reason to temporize. “Yes.”

“Wonderful! So am I. If you’re free this coming Sunday, you’d be more than welcome at the Capitol Assembly—that’s this one here.” He motioned at the building we were passing.

“I’ll certainly consider it,” I said, and he beamed.

By the time we got to the factory the streetcar was crammed to the bursting point, mostly with people who looked like office staff, and the sidewalks were full of men and women heading toward the factory gates for the day shift. We got off with almost everyone else, and I followed Finch down another sidewalk to the front entrance of the business office, a sturdy-looking two-story structure with MIKKELSON MANUFACTURING in big letters above the second story windows and in gold paint on the glass of the front door.

The receptionist was already on duty, and picked up a telephone to announce us. A few minutes later a middle-aged woman in a dark suit came out to shake our hands. “Mr. Carr, pleased to meet you. I’m Elaine Chu. So you’d like to see our factory?”

A few minutes later we’d exchanged our hats, coats and jackets for safety helmets and loose coveralls of tough gray cloth. “Just under half the streetcars manufactured in the Lakeland Republic are made right here,” Chu explained as we walked down a long corridor. “We’ve also got plants in Louisville and Rockford, but those supply the railroad industry—Rockford makes locomotives and Louisville’s our plant for rolling stock. Every Mikkelson streetcar comes from this plant.”

We passed through double doors onto the shop floor. I was expecting a roar of machine noise, but there weren’t a lot of machines, just workers in the same gray coveralls we were wearing, picking up what looked like hand tools and getting to work. There were streetcar tracks running down the middle of the shop floor, and I watched as a team of workers bolted two wheels, an axle, and a gear together and sent it rolling down the track to the next team. Metal parts clanged and clattered, voices echoed off the metal girders that held up the roof, and now and then some part got pulled from the line and chucked into a big cart on its own set of tracks.

“Quality control,” Chu said. “Each team checks each part or assembly as it comes down the line, and anything that’s not up to spec gets pulled and either disassembled or recycled. That’s one of the reasons we have so large a share of the market. Our streetcars average twenty per cent less downtime for repairs than anybody else’s.”

We followed the wheel assemblies down the shop floor from the team that assembled them into four-wheel bogies, through the teams that built a chassis with electric motors and wiring atop each pair of bogies, to the point where the body was hauled in on a heavily-built overhead suspension track and bolted onto the chassis. From there we went back up another long corridor to the assembly line that built the bodies. It was all a hum of activity, with dozens of tools I didn’t recognize at all, but every part of it was powered by human muscle and worked by human hands.

I think we’d been there for about two hours when we got to the end of the line, and watched a brand new Mikkelson streetcar get hooked up to overhead power lines, tested one last time, and driven away on tracks to the siding where it would be loaded aboard a train and shipped to its destination—Sault Ste. Marie, Chu explained, which was expanding its streetcar system now that the borders were open and trade with Upper Canada had the local economy booming. “So that’s the line from beginning to end,” she said. “If you’d like to come this way?”

We went back into the business office, shed helmets and coveralls, and proceeded to her office. “I’m sure you have plenty of questions,” she said.

“One in particular,” I replied. “The lack of automation. Nearly everything you do with human labor gets done in other industrial countries by machines. I’m curious as to how that works—economically as well as practically—and whether it’s a matter of government mandates or of something else.”

I gathered from her expression that she was used to the question. “Do you have a background in business, Mr. Carr?”

I nodded, and she went on. “In the Atlantic Republic, if I understand correctly—and please let me know if I’m wrong—when a company spends money to buy machines, those count as assets; that’s how they appear on the books, and there are tax benefits from depreciation and so on. When a company spends the same money to do the same task by hiring employees, they don’t count as assets, and you don’t get any of the same benefits. Is that correct?”

I nodded again.

“On the other hand, if a company hires employees, it has to spend much more than the cost of wages or salaries. It has to pay into the public social security system, public health care, unemployment, and so on and so forth, for each person it hires. If the company buys machines instead, it doesn’t have to pay any of those things for each machine. Nor is there any kind of tax to cover the cost to society of replacing the jobs that went away because of automation, or to pay for any increased generating capacity the electrical grid might need to power the machines, or what have you. Is that also correct?”

“Essentially, yes,” I said.

“So, in other words, the tax codes subsidize automation and penalize employment. You probably were taught in business school that automation is more economical than hiring people. Did anyone mention all the ways that public policy contributes to making one more economical than the other?”

“No,” I admitted. “I suppose you do things differently here.”

“Very much so,” she said with a crisp nod. “To begin with, if we hire somebody to do a job, the only cost to Mikkelson Manufacturing is the wages or salary, and any money we put into training counts as a credit against other taxes, since that helps give society in general a better trained work force. Social security, health care, the rest of it, all of that comes out of other taxes—it’s not funded by penalizing  employers for hiring people.”

“And if you automate?”

“Then the costs really start piling up. First off, there’s a tax on automation to pay the cost to society of coping with an increase in unemployment. Then there’s the cost of machinery, which is considerable, and then there’s the natural-resource taxes—if it comes out of the ground or goes into the air or water, it’s taxed, and not lightly, either. Then there’s the price of energy. Electricity’s not cheap here; the Lakeland Republic has only a modest supply of renewable energy, all things considered, and it hasn’t got any fossil fuels to speak of, so the only kind of energy that’s cheap is the kind that comes from muscles.” She shook her head. “If we tried to automate our assembly line, the additional costs would break us. It’s a competitive business, and the other two big firms would eat us alive.”

“I suppose you can’t just import manufactured products from abroad.”

“No, the natural-resource taxes apply no matter what the point of origin is. You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of cars on the streets here.”

“I did notice that,” I said.

“Fossil fuels here don’t get the government subsidies here they get almost everywhere else, and there’s the natural-resource taxes on top of that, for the fuel that’s burnt and the air that’s polluted. You can have a car if you want one, but you’ll pay plenty for the privilege, and you’ll pay even more for the fuel if you want to drive it.” 

I nodded; it all made a weird sort of sense, especially when I thought back to some of the other things I’d heard earlier. “So nobody’s technology gets a subsidy,” I said.

“Exactly. Here in the Lakeland Republic, we’re short on quite a few resources, but one thing there’s no shortage of is people who are willing to put in an honest day’s work for an honest wage. So we use the resource we’ve got in abundance, rather than becoming dependent on things we don’t have.”

“And would have to import from abroad.”

“Exactly. As I’m sure you’re aware, Mr. Carr, that involves considerable risks.”

I wondered if she had any idea just how acutely I was aware of those. I put a bland expression on my face and nodded. “So I’ve heard,” I said.


John Michael Greer said...

I'll have irregular internet access for most of the next week. By all means keep the comments coming -- I'll put 'em through as soon as I can.

Marcu said...

For the analytically inclined, I invite you to have a look at the word cloud I generated for The Archdruid Report for the past 9 years over on my website .

Just a reminder that the inaugural meeting of the Melbourne Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Chapter Number 1223, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 1223, (Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne for short, GWAM for shorter) will be held next Saturday, the 31st of October 2015 at 13:00.

The venue is Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]
Just look for the green wizard's hat.

Also posted on the Green Wizard's Forum .

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer, Your Grace, &c.
We members of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association have decided to call our chapters “Towers,” and to extend recognition and membership rights to all traveling Green Wizards.
There is no meeting of Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, this week. Future meetings will be listed in the MeetUps forum on Splendorem Lucis Viridis!

PS – Wisecracking, I suggested a contest to design the GWB&PA Tower building, or to write a list with very loose design parameters to be used by all Tower designers. Except that sounds serious and important. Any takers?

Repent said...

I was hoping that this would be a non-fiction week :)

Today is the *Back to the future day* that the fictional character Dr. Brown time traveled forward in time to in his fabled Delorian .(Oct.21, 2015) A future of flying cars, hover boards, 500 TV channels on wall mounted flat screen TVs and holographic movies. Lets not forget the *Mr. Fusion- home nuclear reactors* that everyone had.

From one of your book titles *Not the future we ordered*, it is clear we have the beginning of a new dark age instead of utopia on this date instead. You like to collect failed apocalyptic stories; how about failed utopias as well

Mark Hines said...

Great installment this week. I was wondering though where the parts for the streetcars are manufactured. That would take a foundry to cast parts and would require a lot of heat from a concentrated energy source. If their electricity is expensive and limited because it is from renewable sources, then how do they smelt the metal. I assume you may go into this in a later installment.
Anyway, I am loving it so far. What a great alternative future scenario. Not at all dystopian as so many others like to paint the future.
Keep up the good work

dfr2010 said...

It sounds as though the Atlantic Republic has been hit with some kind of energy embargo.

Howard Skillington said...

Is the Lakeland Republic accepting applications for citizenship?

How refreshing it is even to read about a system that rewards a company for providing citizens with gainful employment and requires that it pay the costs of the “externalities” engendered by automating. One would suppose this relationship between citizens, government, and society would be the obvious way to go – unless the alternative happened to syphon enormous wealth into the pockets of a few at the top…

I eagerly anticipate finding out about the Atheists Assembly.

Jo said...

I am intrigued by the Atheist Assemblies. In 'Religion for Atheists', Alain de Botton recommends that atheists take a close look at the institutions that have grown up around the major religions, due to the way they nurture our human nature. As well as community, self-care and care for the vulnerable, they promote a certain amount of self-regulation and introspection which can otherwise be missed in daily life: "We need institutions to foster and protect those emotions to which we are sincerely inclined, but which, without a supporting structure and a system of active reminders, we will be too distracted and undisciplined to make time for."

I do hope that the Atheist Assemblies provide all this and more... interfaith gatherings with the Quakers and the Druids, for instance...

On a different note, several weeks ago, JMG, you asked how it might be possible to prevent Tasmania becoming Australia's gated community for the rich and powerful in the likely event that global warming makes life on the mainland unbearable. Well, frankly, I have no idea. BUT, after spending some weeks thinking about this I have come to one conclusion. It is not enough to spend my life tending my vegie garden and making sure my own little patch of suburbia is as low-impact and recession-proof as possible. While that is important as a first step (literally getting my house in order), I have to go out of my front gate and engage in my community as well.

I am not entirely sure how yet, or what earthly use I could be when I do, but I am sure something will turn up. That is how these things work, isn't it? Middle-aged housewife ventures outside front gate and saves world? But hang on, the front fence needs painting.. said...

Economy comes from the Greek word for household management... and I like how the Lakeland Republic manages its household.

HalFiore said...

I love that the Atheists meet in probably the only modernist building in the city.

pygmycory said...

So the Atlantic Republic is dependent on foreign resources and/or manufactures. That makes sense. I'm glad to see the working-out of how the tax regime functions with regard to workers vs. automation. There's some of the same issue with other costs associated with hiring workers in Canada as in the USA - we were just discussing that today in a meeting at church today.

Anthony Romano said...

I'm not sure what interns in 2065 look like, but from personal experience I can say that many of them are well informed and skilled (perhaps more so than their superiors in at least some respects). Admittedly this depends on the field in question, my experience is in ecology, botany, conservation, and land management.

Full disclosure, I finished my M.S. in geography/plant ecology back in 2012. I spent the last three years working as either a paid intern or seasonal temp. I landed my first full-time, permanent, position just over a month ago.

The worst part about the temp/intern experience for me was when I would complete a task in minutes that my supervisor thought would take hours based on their prior experience of doing the same task themselves. It really drove home for me the fact that economic success and status are largely products of luck and timing. I can only imagine how things would have turned out for me if I had finished a B.S. (let alone graduate degree) in 1960 (or 2014 for that matter) rather than 2009 when the sky was falling.

In other words, proper interns ought to be relatively clueless, not highly educated, experienced professionals. Another sign that our collective ship is sinking?

p.s. Sorry if this is a double post, I wasn't sure if it went through the first time.

James M. Jensen II said...

I know you said religion would play a minor part in this story, but I'm curious as to what Atheist Assemblies are like thirty or forty years after the Skeptic movement goes down the same drain as neopaganism. Since this is a utopia, I'm guessing they're a lot more tolerant of other religions and "weird" ideas than their present-day equivalents -- perhaps the views of these Lakeside atheists are even based on evidence and critical thinking!

Genevieve Hawkins said...

This story brings up a lot of good points. In our current state of affairs, the government is rewarding all of the wrong things and the conversation should move to the perverse incentives and what would be better ones. But I wonder if such a structure has to be micromanaged at all, as it seems to me that without any subsidies and financial voodoo a lot of these imbalances would collapse, as it would no longer make sense to import farmed salmon from China to Ohio, say, if all true costs had to be paid upfront. A second pillar is making it impossible for individuals or companies to offload their cost burdens onto the environment, the air, people, etc. Ah such a dream!

Patricia Mathews said...

I have a friend who is a Georgist, and as a courtesy to him, I read PROGRESS & POVERTY (if I remember the title correctly.) The idea of taxing those things that nature gives, like land or oil or trees, makes good sense. The idea of not taxing the things human beings make, probably less so. But either Lakeland has to some extent reinvented the Georgist wheel, or whether they have actually read the literature and adopted part of the idea, is a good question.

Sawbuck said...

This just gets better and better.

John Michael Greer said...

Marcu, fascinating. I'm not sure your wordcloud program is working the way it should, though, because it included several words -- such as "Benghazi" -- which I don't recall using at all.

Eric, funny. I want my tower to be made of big blocks of stone and to have battlements on the top.

Repent, that's a good point. I didn't watch the movie, so didn't think of the date -- but it's worth noting that 2015 didn't turn out to have most of the neat toys it was supposed to...

Mark, there are various sources of heat energy that can be used for smelting. I'll have to look into the most likely candidates for the Lakeland Republic to use.

Dfr2010, nah, it's just dependent -- as is today's United States -- on supplies of energy resources from foreign powers whose interests don't necessarily coincide with its own. (At all.) Stay tuned...

Howard, of course you can become a citizen of the Lakeland Republic. All you have to do is start building it here and now, beginning with your own lifestyle!

Jo, de Botton's book was one of the things that inspired the Atheist Assembly -- that, and reading that there are various groups of atheists in various corners of the industrial world who are starting to get together of a Sunday to have the same kind of social benefits believers get from churches. Carr will be attending the meeting come Sunday, so you'll get to find out all about it. As for doing something about Tasmania -- I'm delighted to hear it. Every real change in the world happened because somebody said, "You know, somebody has to do something about this, and I don't see anyone else stepping up to the plate, so it's probably going to have to be me."

Andrew, good! There's plenty more to come.

Hal, I wondered if anybody was going to catch that. ;-)

Pygmycory, the Atlantic Republic is the natural extrapolation of what's happening in the global economy today. That makes it a good contrast to the Lakeland Republic, which has gone a different route.

Anthony, Ms. Berger did say that Finch was well-informed, you know.

James, stay tuned. I think you'll find the Assembly meeting intriguing.

John Michael Greer said...

Genevieve, micromanagement is only necessary if you don't have good overall policies in place. A system like the Lakeland Republic's, which automatically forces people to pay the costs of the things from which they benefit, doesn't need any unusual amount of tinkering -- and fish from China would be priced right out of the Lakeland market due to natural-resource taxes!

Patricia, George's ideas have had some impact on what I'm exploring here, but they're not the whole shebang by a long shot. Factor in some Leon MacLaren and a lot of EF Schumacher, and you're getting closer. That'll be clearer as we proceed...

Sawbuck, glad you like it. It's got quite a ways still to go; I hope you feel the same way as we proceed.

beneaththesurface said...

One last reminder:

DC area Green Wizards will be meeting Sunday, Oct. 25 at 2 pm near the Clarendon Metro in Arlington, VA

If you are interested in attending (or staying informed of subsequent meet-ups), please RSVP to rwhite at fastmail dot fm

and I will then tell you our specific meeting location. At this point, we have 9 people likely coming.

HalFiore said...

"Intern," my rosy, red, ... donkey.

Probably not actually an Atheist, either. Someone in Lakeland generates pretty good dossiers.

Anthony Romano said...

True, she did say well informed. I took umbrage with Carr's description of his facial expression..."the kind of permanently startled expression you find most often in interns, ingenues, and axe murderers."

Having recently been an intern/temp for the past several years, and having worked with many others in the same position, I'd say nobody looked particularly startled. Most had a clear eyed assessment of the myths we'd been peddled by our culture about how to succeed in life (hard work doesn't mean a thing in this economy).

If we looked like naive actresses at the onset, well then, a couple years of constant job searching, instability, and low pay has beaten that naivety out and replaced it with a detached cynicism.

I realize Carr's time is different, but these days most interns/temps I've met have few illusions about their prospects and a whole lot of frustration and bitterness instead.

If things continue as they are or get worse (which is likely) these same young folks may opt for the lamppost instead of the axe.

If that turns out to be the case, well then I guess Carr's comment is fair enough.

escapefromwisconsin said...

Is the Lakeland Republic an autarky?

Steven said...


People have grown so passive and so dependent on the social systems and technological systems that are engineered for us.

I wonder if people can realize that we have the power to design (or redesign) these systems for our benefit. How to grow that realization? How to grow that power?

A pleasure reading you, as always.


iangagn said...

I'm curious to know if the last name of the woman at MIKKELSON MANUFACTURING -- Chu -- is a hint that China has become a net exporter of technical specialists rather than an importer.

I'm currently doing internship in an energy research laboratory located in Asia and I can tell you that, at least from my biased perspective, they are taking energy efficiency VERY seriously. I wouldn't be surprised if I met many Chus and Lins throughout my career and I certainly look forward to that.

Please keep it coming Mr. Greer, I really do appreciate this more than you think.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

"Jo, de Botton's book was one of the things that inspired the Atheist Assembly -- that, and reading that there are various groups of atheists in various corners of the industrial world who are starting to get together of a Sunday to have the same kind of social benefits believers get from churches."

Not for the first time.

Several atheist or nontheistic Humanist churches were founded in the 1930s and at least one survives, with a single building in Oakland, CA. They rent out meeting space to community groups and I've attended events there. More about the Humanist Church in Oakland:

Philip Hardy said...

UK, one of our TV channels ran all three "Back to the Future" movies last night. And no we did not get Dr Browns gee wiz 2015, but there is an alternate 2015 in "Back to the Future 2", that of Biff Tannen's gambling and toxic waste empire, set in a dystopia of gangs and urban decay. So the writers weren't completely wrong! Though I think they would not like to be reminded of it. And no I did not watch all three movies, but caught part of No 2 while cleaning walnuts from this Autumn harvest. TV does have one small redeeming feature, in that it takes the mind off dull jobs.


Philip Hardy

Damo said...

On the topic of subsidies, ADR readers might find this article interesting:

The worlds first 'spaceport' was heavily subsidised by a poor community and the costs are starting to accumulate. No surprises in who is bearing the brunt of this boondongle, which ironically is not even in operation and most likely never will be (Virgin Galactic flights were meant to commence 5 years ago and seem to be on indefinite hold now).

Scotlyn said...

I very much like the tinkering with the way balance sheets are constructed and thought about, as their dry presentation hides the deeply arbitrary conventions built in. You've laid out the worker v machine axis* beautifully, but I've often had thoughts about a different one. What if you reversed your balance sheet values such that shareholders were a liability and the equity belonged to the workers? This would immediately reveal the extent to which shareholders have dragged the worker's share of productivity down through succeeding decades, and in any sane economy, rendering themselves uncompetitive in doing so. It would also reveal the reason that CEO pay as a multiple of lowest worker pay has gone through the rook, as your average CEO is being rewarded for success in a single task. Snagging a greater & greater share of productivity rewards away from workers and towards shareholders.

*I live in a fishing port which has systematically destroyed perhaps a 1000-2000 fish filleting and processing jobs (in a town of 3,000 and a hinterland of maybe 3x that many - but home to 20-30 millionaire factory/boat owners) over the past two decades using mechanisation, a great deal of which was publicly grant aided. The costs are not hard to see. We are literally haemorrhaging young people. 19-30's very thin on the ground. My two as well.

Your story at least makes different ways of organising seem possible & thats somewhat encouraging.

Brian said...

I've been wondering how they deal with smuggling in Lakeland. There doesn't seem to be a common religious code mandating conformity to the particular technological levels such as that of the Amish, so surely there must be individuals who would seek to bring in the odd electronic calculator or solar panel from elsewhere? Back in the 70s in India when the government had high tariffs on imported products to encourage the development of local industry, backpackers could make good money unloading goodies like cameras, calculators and boomboxes. How do they handle that here?

ed boyle said...

I recently googled stats on yoga and tai chi participation. Apparently yoga is a real growth industry, supported by practice at clubs being paid for by health insurers for various ailments. Your atheist assembly seems to me to be a sortof joke of what 1960 intellectuals felt. Asian practice seems to be the new sttandard religion for nonbelievers, mediating buddhist atheist yogi consumer citizen enviro freaks. Basically yoga is going mainsream to football team training, weight lifters, etc. as just the smart thing to do to stay healthy, happy and fit. A pure mental approach is 19th century with church pews and sermons and logic. One has to experience truth. Jesus said 'you will kno the truth and the truth will set you free.' Being a bit bawdy I could assert that knowing in the old testament sense of Adam knew Eve is closer to what he meant than intellectual knowledge. Heinlein called it grokking. This is not a pladyer/ad for yoga. I just think an atheist assembly will be unrealistic in the coming mentality which distrusts rationalism completely including estern religios rationalism. Your othr blog might fit this better but I can imagine average people comparing their deep transcdental states and competing to see who first reaches 9th level whatever, like in karate.

Alex said...

Here in San Jose California I am just about saying goodbye to the internet, too slow and too expensive, and not a dime to be made on it but I have to weigh in.

People are cheaper than robots. Period. People are cheaper than robots.

Otherwise, given the billions of years Evolution has had to work in, why is the dominant life form not robotic?

We humans can eat leaves and bugs, swim in swamps, self repair to an astounding degree, and procreate.

A human, even in the USA, can get by on $10 a day, given a place to pitch a tent, and the homeless camps here are huge. Try to run a robot on that.

I love OSH, or Orchard Supply Hardware. The original branch has OSHbots, who you can tell voice commands and they will lead you to where the paint is etc.

I've really wanted to interact with the friendly little buggers, but every time I go there, they're in the shop.

Odin's Raven said...

Its amusing that the Atheist Church has chosen the same holy day as the Christians. Perhaps an observer would find their actual behavior rather similar.

Brian Cady said...

Thanks, JMG, for the great exposition of perverse incentives discouraging the use of labor in the Atlantic Republic, and encouraging it in the Lakeland Republic. It's really important - I wish this would get into current USA presidential debates. I tried to watch them recently, but couldn't stomach it. It does seem like you've read Hazel Henderson - is this true?


Cherokee Organics said...


Nice work on the use of the word "compromise" in relation to reaching a political settlement over a contentious political issue. A very nice idea, too bad politicians have forgotten that word - mind you, forgetting that word also helps them disguise that there is actually very little to differentiate between them.

We have the biggest tram network on the planet down here and you may be interested to note that originally the cars were powered by horses. Then came some sort of underground cable system - which I believe is still there under the rails. And finally the electric sort.

When I was younger they had timber trams (also plush leather seats) with conductors and you described it pretty much as I remember it. Those timber trams still run in the city today. On a hot day it was nice because the windows could be opened and the cooling breeze blew through the tram car.

Now interestingly too, I also recall (and I'm not that old) the old red rattler timber railway trains down here which were reasonably similar in style to the trains. I must add though that the country trains nowadays are very nice and very fast and I can get to the city much faster than driving there and it dumps me right in the middle of the city too.

I don't have any more to add other than I agree with your story 100% - I'm all for getting my hands dirty and putting in an honest and hard day’s work whether it is here or for my clients.

So instead, I'll tell you a funny story. This morning I had to visit a shop and the person I had to speak with was on the phone so I was unfortunately exposed to the horrors of early morning television. I had not been exposed to that before and all I can say is that we all must be wary of exposing ourselves to market forces! Hehe! Well I thought that was amusing...

Anyway, as the volume was so loud I could not ignore it I started noticing that in between doing product demonstrations, there was a well presented lady talking about optimism and how the lack of it is some sort of psychological disorder (which she can help with for a fee) - I'm not kidding you. There was also a male and female presenter listening to this dialogue and to the credit of the female presenter she was leaning far back and away from the well-presented lady - but the whole thing was weird.

And then it got weirder, because during one of the advertisement breaks, I noticed one of the pleasant young ladies who was flogging an insurance product (I think it was that anyway) had on her tee-shirt the word: "Progressive". I cannot make this stuff up, I felt that I had descended into a layer of Hell...



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Scrapping where I discuss how Toothy the dachshund earned his name. It is an amusing story, but more importantly it involves the chickens so I had to do something about it and the chicken projects gets ever more interesting and complex! I did a day of digging in the hot sun to get the new berry bed completed and moved a couple of cubic metres (cubic yards) of organic matter into it and planted out various berries into it. I also show in a lot of cool photos how the place is enjoying the weird weather down here and also there is a few more cool photos showing some of the local birds. Enjoy!

averagejoe said...

Excellent next instalment. Once again got me thinking. I was watching a live BBC programme the other day, where the presenters were in the UK BMW factory which builds the mini. A new car is produced every minute (or just under). The factory uses the ‘just in time principle’, which normal practice in this industry. If there is any delay in sub components reaching the factory, production is affected. What struck me was how little resilience the whole process had. It takes very little in the way of unexpected circumstances to stuff the whole thing. In addition, staff building the cars (admittedly robots do the lion share), are so specialised that they are only involved in small parts of the construction process, eg fitting the tail gate. Again, this seems so lacking in resilience. A business involved in restoring classic cars, in contrast, seems more resilient. Staff have a wider range of skills, vehicles are made from more basic components which can be refurbished, repaired or substituted, and sources of work could be diversified, should the economy take a down turn. Looking forward to the next part.

MawKernewek said...

@averagejoe - as well as actually displacing jobs outright, a more incomplete automation is to change the role of the job from actually doing work to babysitting machines.
This is exactly what happens with automated checkouts at supermarkets, which still need to be monitored by humans to approve purchases of alcohol etc. and keep losses to shoplifting to absorbable levels (but I presume higher levels than manual checkouts), or railway staff where instead of the ticket inspector being on the train it is possible to have someone watch an automated ticket barrier and open it manually when it doesn't work.
So what is going on is deskilling the work so that the management can keep wages down.

Somewhatstunned said...

Mention of Back to the future made me think that right there we have your subtitle:

Retrotopia: forward to the past

James Gemmill said...

It seems the Lakeland Republic has opted to have the skills in the workers rather than the machines. Do they have any machines, though? Like large wheel lathes for turning the rough forgings/castings of the wheel centers and tires as well as large-sized lathes for axles? Does this mean the machine tools have ball crank handles for manipulation instead of computer numerical control? Here's hoping.

I wonder if my profession/trade has reverted back to it's original techniques in the Lakeland Republic, provided it exists: Drafting.

I had the benefit of learning how to do everything on the drawing board, but never had the opportunity of working in the traditional manner professionally. It turned out the transition from traditional methods to computer aided drafting was well under way by the time I graduated from vo-tech training.

I've still got the my full range of instruments: compass set, triangles, scales, lead holders/thin-lead mechanical pencils, templates, et al. I wouldn't feel like a draftsman without 'em and they weren't cheap. I've been attempting to track down any of the older instructional materials that were published before the dark times, before CAD, and the older texts include techniques and methods that newer references have discarded, like laying out and drawing up alignment charts/nomographs.

Guess it's time to pull the instruments out of their case so they know they're still valued and appreciated.

Zack Lehtinen said...

I would like to posit a (hopefully approved: much respect, JMG) further invitation, just once more (only once before) to my fellow Archdruid readers who enjoy JMG's fiction, who tend to participate in his Space Bats challenges, who value the notion that a compelling, well-written story can be a way to help people imagine and embrace a future that is "not the one we ordered" but can nonetheless be lived through and lived-into with some grace, Green Wizardry and Ecotechnic know-how...

If you write such stories, novels, or other written material grappling with such elements, or even nonfiction (or poetry, essays, etc.) which point toward the Ecotechnic Future and our place within it-- please take a quick look at New Myths Press:

I have been a regular reader of TAR (funny acronym!;) for a few years now, and only post this here because I feel there are likely like-minded others out there-- and I was inspired by following the Retrotopia story unfolding, as I assume anyone reading these words also might likely be. There's a pretty direct connection there.

Anyway-- looking forward to the next installment, JMG! As always, your insights and sheer writing quality keep me going-- and keep me coming to your 'blog. Thanks as always.

Wayne A. Shingler said...

I'm wondering whether the Lakeland Republic has a legal minimum wage, and if so, what forces determine where it is set. Humans are used in favor of machines because the tax structure makes humans cheaper...but only so long as wages remain low relative to those tax penalties. At the same time, human labor is also cheap because it's something the Lakeland Republic has in abundance. That would push wages down even further without some kind of counteracting economic force.

Such a force could take the form of minimum wage laws, labor unions, or the simple fact that in a land with so many small farms and such a vibrant home economy, workers may be free to decide that's it's simply more economical to work at home than to take a job that pays too little.

I also recall an earlier blog post (not sure if it was by you or someone else) that discussed slavery and prison labor in low-tech, low-energy societies that had a surplus of human labor. It's generally been the case that the cheapest way of doing something is the way most taken for granted and carelessly abused, whether that's fossil fuels or human workers. What safeguards (if any) does the Lakeland Republic have to prevent this from becoming the case. I'm assuming they must have done something, given that the poor immigrants we saw on the train from the Atlantic Republic believed they'd have a much better life in the Lakeland Republic.

zaphod42 said...

Hi JMG: Nice touch in the factory. More interesting to me is the bit about Atheists. " If you’re free this coming Sunday, you’d be more than welcome at the Capitol Assembly."

Just wondering how you would get the Atheists to do that. I've tried, and they react coldly to the thought of a Sunday (or one day a week) social meeting... very strange, to me. Our local 'free thinkers' group was sparsely attended.

Also, why would the Atheist's Assembly Hall be a modernist building? I would make mine more like an older reading room/library; lots of cozy chairs, arranged in small conversation groups. Otherwise it would be like a weekly TED talk. Atheistic sermons? I think not.

You've about convinced me that my move (when, not if) will be to the 'rust belt,' maybe Indiana, or perhaps Ohio or even Michigan. Had a 3.5 acre spread up there once. I could do that again, and the locals tend to have a mindset that might actually facilitate a Lakelandesque transformation.

Enjoying the series immensely. Thanks.


Renovator said...

First off, thank you for taking the time to put such great ideas in such an interesting format. I'm thoroughly enjoying this :)

I worked in manufacturing for years before NAFTA and other trade agreements wiped the last bastion of honest wage labor from the U.S. map. I was lucky enough to be proficient enough with computers to move into the field as a programmer, but many were not so fortunate. For me, toiling on my feet, getting dirty and busting a few knuckles was part of an honest day's work. I stood prouder and was happier with my work then. Not so much anymore...

There are certainly a large number of currently out-of-work or under-payed working class that would benefit greatly if such a system were in place today. I'm thinking specifically of the large number of disenfranchised youth (particularly of the male persuasion) who are just chomping at the bit to be "put to honest work for honest pay".

Think of all the urban and rural poverty that would no longer exist if such a system were in place here and now. While your tax/subsidy system outlined above is a brilliant idea, I don't see it occurring anytime soon. As you've mentioned in your storyline, there will need to be collapse and subsequent rebuilding before this has a chance to be put into play.

jonathan said...

the atheist assembly referenced in this installment is not fiction. sunday assembly is a secular organization with groups in many cities throughout the world. think of it as church without a god or gods. not specifically atheist, but avowedly secular and fulfilling many of the same functions of community and service as churches, synagogues, mosques etc. if anyone has interest, i suggest a search for "sunday assembly" to find a congregation(?) in your area.

RickH said...

Here's a nice example of appropriate tech that I bet they're using in the Lakeland Republic: a trompe. All you need is a height differential and some flowing water, and you can do endless things with compressed air as a result.
From Wikipedia:
A trompe is a water-powered gas compressor, commonly used before the advent of the electric-powered compressor. A trompe is somewhat like an airlift pump working in reverse.

Trompes were used to provide compressed air for bloomery furnaces in Catalonia[1] and the USA.[2] The presence of a trompe is a signature attribute of a Catalan forge, a type of bloomery furnace.

In Paris they were used for a time to compress air to drive the city's first electricity generation scheme, and in the Alps they were used in France and Switzerland to provide compressed air for early alpine tunnels.[3]

Trompes can be enormous. At Canadian Hydro Developers' Ragged Chute facility in New Liskeard, Ontario, water falls down a shaft 351 feet (107 m) deep and 9 ft (2.7 m) across to generate compressed air for mining equipment and ventilation.[4]

james albinson said...

A thought about the factory. In order to turn a 2 foot dia steel wheel casting to +- one thou of an inch, the lathe needs 5-15 horsepower on the spindle and (preferably) tungsten carbide or high speed steel turning tools. High carbon steel tools work, but need more attention more often. Somewhere there has to be a 100-200HP steam engine running a system of shafts and belts that turn lathes, milling and drilling machines. Pure hand tools won't cut it (pardon the pun!). I rather think early pre-steam manufactories used water mill type power - the earliest steam engines were probably made that way. Its a sort of bootstrap process.

Jill Grow said...

I'm reminded of how our little film production company makes sure that, when we use people in any part of our production, it is spelled out very clearly in our contracts that no employer-employee relationship is being created. If we had to hire "employees", both money and time (and paperwork) would be prohibitive for us. Inanimate resources, on the other hand, just get purchased and put on the books.

John Roth said...

on assembly lines: Assembly line positions don’t require a whole lot of skill. The prototypical assembly line was Ford Motor Company’s Rouge River Works. It was that way to be able to put a tidal wave of immigrants to work promptly at a living wage. Most of them didn’t speak English.

I wonder how many streetcars they put out a day? I doubt if it’s enough to have one team just put together a couple of wheels and an axel all day - that team is probably doing a lot more than just that one job.

on capital: I noticed someone picked up on the notion that the workers own the plant and the investors are in a similar position to bondholders - they get paid a variable dividend based on profits instead of fixed interest, and get their principle returned in quarterly payments as well so they don’t have a perpetuity. I presume JMG will be talking about that later.

on just-in-time manufacturing: just-in-time is part of the Toyota Manufacturing System, later called Lean Manufacturing. It depends on a rigorous approach to quality control. In a Japanese plant using the system, any worker can stop the line when a defect appears: the first order of business is then to diagnose what caused the defect and fix that. Then work resumes. It’s a very interesting system that puts the responsibility for work procedures in the worker’s hands.

S.Treimel said...

Mark Hines said: "That would take a foundry to cast parts and would require a lot of heat from a concentrated energy source."

Mark, you're certainly right about the concentrated energy source being necessary to create the heat necessary for processing ore into metal, or even to melt existing steel/iron scrap into new forms. The US Energy Information Agency estimates that, within the territory of the states of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, there is currently 53,000,000,000 tons of recoverable coal. I propose that this coal will provide the concentrated energy source. Granted, the resource extraction costs and taxes would be considerable, as would be the pollution (and attendant taxes) due to the combustion. However, steel and iron are exceptionally durable substances, and would remain in service for many decades.
In JMG's description of the history of Lakeland Republic, war machinery had reduced all of the buildings to rubble. In that rubble there was probably a lot of steel and iron, and I do not doubt that the thrifty citizens recycled every bit of it.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Much fun.

In real life, interwar Upper Canada was moving toward a really good tram
system, in part under the guidance of Sir Adam Beck. Sir Adam's vision was
that one would eventually be able to travel a couple of hundred kilometres by
tram, of course with lots of changes - ultimately, I think, all the way from
Toronto down to Windsor, in a tram-upon-tram-upon-tram sunrise-to-bedtime marathon.

JMG, you perhaps know of similar efforts in the
interwar USA. I **THINK** trams back then gave the poor and determined and
patient a way of travelling between cities.

In the Brezhnev or Andropov era, one could
get all the way from Leningrad to Moscow by taking some suitable plurality
of trams. Perhaps someone well informed on current Russia can comment on the current situation? (Mr Orlov, are you possibly reading ADR this week, as you
in the past have been?)

Tom (living in Richmond Hill, approx 25 km north of Toronto core;
Richmond Hill was itself connected to Toronto by a type of electric
tram from 1890s to late 1940s; this tram in fact ran for much of this
period still farther north, perhaps over a total north-south trackage of 40 km or so)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

JMG, are you able to comment on ownership structures in Lakeland? Those of
us who are distributists, under the impetus of Leo XIII or similar, are
fond of the worker-owned cooperative. We in this context cite the appliance
(white-goods) makers of Mondragon in Spain, and also the Scott Bader
chemicals group in England (which benefited from the managerial advice of Schumacher). On the Mondragon model, external shareholder capital is used little or not at all, and an enterprise has to spin off a daughter enterprise if the internal headcount gets too large to make direct-participation corporate governance practical. I **THINK** Mondragon firms do the spin-off when there are more than 400 or so employees.

It is perhaps helpful to belabour this point a little. It is one thing to come
in to work and think: Well, these lathes, these drill presses are owned by
external shareholders. It is a different thing to come in to work and think:
Well, these lathes, these drill presses are owned in part by me, and to the
extent that they are not owned by me are owned by people I see every day,
many of whom I even know by name.


James Gemmill said...

Mark, there are various sources of heat energy that can be used for smelting. I'll have to look into the most likely candidates for the Lakeland Republic to use.

How 'bout charcoal? I'd expect the Lakeland Republic to be converting hardwood (if they've got it) into charcoal and with a suitable furnace, it'll readily melt aluminum.

If you've got a cupola-type furnace, charcoal will melt iron. Not sure what you'd do for steel, though.

Bob Patterson said...

Chipping away at workman's comp

Bob Patterson said...

Your latest installment seems to hark back to the US in the 1940-50's, except for the lack of autos. Life was good. There was progress, but at a slow rate. A no-growth economy is only abhorrent to lenders, who want to be sure they are re-paid.

My grandmother, Minnie Wright, grew up on a farm in West Virginia, where the only outside goods they bought were sugar, coffee, salt flour and cloth. Light was from kerosene lamps and transport was animal powered. And she lived to see the moon landing on TV. Think of all the cultural shocks she saw.

JAMES GAMMILL - check out the Craftsman's Apprentice about 1800's furniture design. Reprinted for a while now.

If you read the novel "Ragtime" by Docktorow, a small part of the plot is a trip from NyC to Philadelphia, by streetcar. Making transfer after transfer. I( grew up with a lot of people who mourned the passing of the trolleys.

عبد المنعم المشايخي said...

Honest work for honest wage, sum it up.

daelach said...

@ JMG: You are responsible for a near-death-experience of my keyboard - when I read the sentence with the axe murderers, I nearly spat my morning coffee over the table, LOL!

Otherwise, the policies make sense given that resources are scarce and labour abundant. Actually, something like this was what the German government and especially the green party had in mind about some 15 years ago; they wanted to tax energy higher and in turn, reduce additional labour costs like social insurance and so on. The project got stuck because those who are profiting from the status quo intervened.

The result was that energy for industry purposes was exempted from the regulations, and now the consumers pay high energy prices to compensate for the industrial low prices. The threat of the industry was to move out of Germany, that's why. Plus that "free trade" inhibited the obvious idea that Lakeland is doing, putting high taxes on imported high-resource products. The main reason why this wasn't considered in Germany is that Germany is exporting lots of such products itself.

All in all, the thing failed because this is the usual result when you want things to change and still remain the same. Too many voters were unwilling to abandon the Atlantic Republic way. Mainly because 15 years ago, peakoil was still in the future, and a majority of active voters profited from "business as usual".

Ed-M said...

So there are multiple streetcar lines sorted by color in the LR Toledo! And the green Line is kind of like Boston's MBTA Green Line, except with trolleys similar to the Perly-Thomas streetcar, and no rapid transit tunnels.

And I had to recheck your description of the Athiest Assembly building. Looks like the Athiests are the ones running megachurches in this 'topia. Fascinating. Are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, San Harris, and other noted present-day Athiest fundamentalists Saints in this Assembly, along with Charles F. Darwin, Robert Ingersoll and the like? Oh, well at least it ain't the Athiest Assembly of God! ;^)

Dan the Farmer said...

My ancestry being Michigan Dutch, I hope the Lakeland Republic makes good use of wind, despite it's shortages of other energy sources. I can see how modern turbines with their expensive parts and embodied energy would not be so popular in the L.R., but old fashioned wind machines, grinding grain, pumping water, and sawing wood, all through direct mechanical means whenever the wind blows, might make just as much sense 50 years from now as it did before the invention of the steam engine 250 years ago. I would expect this to happen most in the 1830 and 1850 baseline economies most, but the 1880 and later counties would probably use some too. There are pictures from WWII of improvised windmill clothes washing machines in the south pacific. I've heard of them used for rocking babies too.

(sorry for the typo last time.)

Marian Veverka said...

Henry George was in favor of a "Single Tax". He believed that separately taxing property and what is built upon it should be discarded in favor of one, single tax. He founded a third party called "The Progressive Party" which had some success in the early 1920's. Tom L. Johnson, who became mayor of Louisville, Ky. tried to implement this plan.

The Progressive party also had some success in Cleveland, OH. My grandfather was active in that party and what I remember of him was an autographed copy of "Progress and Poverty" and a member of the Progressives who spoke at his funereal.

I did a term paper on Henry George and the Progressive movement and they made a lot of sense - probably why their success was limited. Henry George had other recomendations besides the "Single tax plan," but that is the one I remember.

Yooper said...

I'm sure enjoying the scenario and thanks for mentioning my hometown, John! Yup, without the Canadian trade here we're sunk. Think we'll see street cars once again here? Thanks yooper

Marcu said...

The wordcloud is a bit difficult to verify by hand. It is set up to stop at a certain amount of words and to create a "fuller" cloud some words only appear once on the blog. You used "Benghazi" in the post "The Limits of Incantation" back in 2011. I would be happy to check for any other words in order to work out any bugs.

latheChuck said...

Eric Backos- Beware of trying to build a tower to suit your business! I've read that a number of major enterprises have marked their high-water mark at the point of setting out to design the New Corporate Headquarters. By the time they're moved in, they're in a permanent decline. I speculate that most enterprises were not organized for the construction of a headquarters, and the effort required to construct one distracts them from the business at hand, so they are defeated by rivals who are not so distracted. (There was once a great tower in Chicago named "Sears". )

A variation is the Skyscraper Index (see Wikipedia entry) which says that the appearance of very tall buildings predicts global decline.

In fact, the Skyscraper Index has this to say: "C. Northcote Parkinson's theory that only organizations in decline have sleek, well-planned buildings." (See also Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill available time.")

Bootstrapper said...

One justification (perhaps the main one) for pursuing technology as far as possible, is military advantage. A country that deliberately chooses technological regression, however good it is for its people and economy, leaves itself vulnerable to domination by rivals with more 'advanced' military technology, backed by equally 'advanced' industrial capability. The Lakeland Republic is apparently secure within its borders and has not suffered any recent incursions from the Atlantic Republic despite the disparity of military technology suites. Considering that the Atlantic Republic is an extrapolation of current trends, a prosperous neighbour on the other side of a land-border with a far less 'advanced' military technology suite would be a tempting target. What's stopping the Atlantic Republic from making the attempt? Surely, such a question would have occurred to Peter Carr.

Matt Heins said...

This is really riveting so far. I don't wish to unseemly gush, but my feeling at this point is that you really are writing this time's Ecotopia here. The book should be as big a hit as Long Descent or better unless my thumb is totally mistaken about the pulse of the nation.

My personal take as either a "young genXer" or "old Millenial" - I was born in 1979, the demographers can't seem to decide what group I must be lumped into- is that Retrotopia, (i. e. The Lakeland Republic) has the same pull with me as Bernie Sanders' rhetoric does. It is not the same tired futurist or Friedmanite capitalist b.s. that I have watched not actually work and in fact make everything worse for quite literally and exactly my ENTIRE LIFE, but rather a positing of the Great Question that haunts my (one or two, the demographers refuse to be clear) generation:

The past was certainly better than today, what things did they have in the past that made this so?

One editorial note if that would be helpful: I think with just a word or two it could be clearer that Carr did not in fact witness an entire streetcar being assembled in two hours but rather multiple cars in stages of assembly. Assuming two shifts, a two hour assembly means 8 cars per day which means 40 cars per work week or 2080 cars per year! Surely the Lakeland Republic does not require this much! To clarify: the situation is clear to the attentive reader as the text stands. But with a word or two added, I think it would be perfectly clear to all readers.

Keep up the good work and thanks.

Danil Osipchuk said...

@Toomas (Tom)
It is still possible to travel between Moscow and St.Petersburg that way, albeit slowly - it takes 4 or 5 hops.
I'm not sure that 'tram' is a correct term though. These are electrically powered local trains similar to those in England for instance. Passengers don't have a booked seat and sit where they wish (or stand if there is no place) and that's a single big difference from just plain train with sitting compartments.

Danil Osipchuk said...

It looks like it you can do it in 3 hops currently:
Moscow-Tver 11:22 == 14:03
Tver-Bologoe 14:56 == 18:27
Bologoe-St.Petersburg 18:42 == 22:11

nuku said...

Re "advanced" military vs more "primitive" technology: the present Middle East wars, the Russian debacle in Afganistan, and Amerika's little adventure in Vietnam all demonstrate that a determined enemy with less advanced weaponry can sometimes win against the big boys with their technologically "superior" toys. Often the more advanced the weapon, the more unreliable it is.

patriciaormsby said...


I get the feeling that the main issue keeping atheists away from church these days is they are just plain too busy, but when I was a girl in Salt Lake, the atheists all called themselves "Unitarians" and got together religiously every Sunday. Part of it may have been that there was nothing much else to do, but they clearly felt the need for the familiar rituals without getting browbeaten about having to believe in unprovable fairytales they'd rejected. Also atheism is not a rejection of human morality. At church they could discuss that important subject. Furthermore, given how aggressive the proselytizers could be, it was nice to have a community to band together with and discuss survival strategies.

Tyler August said...

Love the tax code comments, JMG. Hate "Upper Canada" -- especially the implication it extends to Sault St.Marie. Toomas, in a comment to an earlier post, talked about "Toronto the Good". I'd tell you what the rest of the province thinks about Toronto, but then you could not publish my comment. Let me try, without profanity: a supperating bowl of leeches; a running sore; a cancer. No offense intended to Thoomas Karmo or those who live in the supposed 'center of the universe' (a phrase they use only half-ironically), but you benefit immensely from a wealth pump on the rest of the province, and, frankly, we kind of hate you for it. I was speaking to a couple who live east of Kingston the other day, and made the mistake of identifying their hamlet as part of Southern Ontario. Their response? "No, no! We're in Eastern Ontario. Don't lump us in with those [illegitimate children]." (Quote modified for our host's profanity policy.)

I could detail some of the effects of the wealth pump, but why bother? No need to rant for pages. It is ever thus, and the center always has self-satisfied excuses for their privilege. My point is that if the country that holds us together comes apart, the centrifugal forces on the regions of Ontario will be huge, and nostalgia coming from Toronto's richest suburb for a name many will barely recall is too weak a centripital counter force.

In school, we learn two things about "Upper Canada", or perhaps three: first, that it was ruled by an ogliarchy called the Family Compact, second, that the common people rebelled and failed, and third, if they pay any attention to the map, that it extended as far North as what the Muskoka area, what Toronto calls 'Cottage Country'. (See map:

I do not see that history stirring any great loyalties, but I could be wrong. Toronto also holds all our marketing firms, so maybe they can pull off a PR coup.

It's your Future History of course, JMG, and of course it's focused on Lakeland anyway-- but I could more easily see both sides of the Sault being under the same flag than the north answering to an revived Upper Canada it was never really part of to begin with.

Gavin Harris said...


I was fascinated by your description of how industry in Lakeland views costs vs assets vs taxes, etc. I'm guessing that you are drawing on a body of knowledge that I've never encountered. Could you provide a recommended reading list that would enable us to dive deeper into a lot of the concepts that you are covering in this series of posts?

Gavin Harris said...

The problem with advanced militaries is that they are resource intensive. When you are in a situation of declining resources, deploying those military forces requires denying those resources to other areas of your economy and runs the risks of local resource depletion. Think of the German tanks running out of fuel during the battle of the Bulge.

James Gemmill said...

@Bob Patterson

Who's the author of the Craftsman's Apprentice? I tried doing a search on Google and Amazon but nothing with that title came up. There's the Craftsman & Apprentice, which does have the approximate time-frame you mentioned.

Lindsay Books, before they shut down permanently for retirement (a moment of respectful silence, please) used to have texts available that pertained to retorts for producing charcoal and producer gas. That technology might be suitable for the Lakeland Republic's tiers two, three and four.

RPC said...

Odin's Raven said, "Its amusing that the Atheist Church has chosen the same holy day as the Christians." It makes perfect sense; they've got the day off anyway. Why make things unnecessarily difficult? (I'm not sure the Atheists would appreciate the phrase "holy day!")

Unknown said...

To Bootstrapper: JMG dealt with this in an earlier post where he referenced military disparity and technology: some advances are not advances: if you make yourself dependent on voice/radio communication and gps and smart weapons and the internet, you open yourself up to interference from much lower tech levels. Certain skills, once acquired, can offset a big technological advantage particularly for people defending their homeland as the Brits and Russians have learned in Afghanistan. By skills I mean marksmanship, setting ambushes, mastery of local terrain, navigation w/o gps, support of the natives, etc. Another example: who has the advantage, un-skilled machine gun operators spraying ammo around or the man picking his targets carefully with a good condition world war one era bolt action rifle? fact, I might be very very dangerous to those machine gunners even with a black powder muzzle loaded sniper rifle of US civil war vintage. The north lost a lot of officers at pretty significant ranges to roving snipers.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

News flash: it turns out that ADR blog contributor Jason Heppenstall has published a book, The Path to Odin's Lake - A Scandinavian Soul Journey, and that this book is favourably reviewed by the rather authoritative Maddy Harland at .

thanking the heavens not only for Mr Greer
but this morning also for Maddy Harland,


John Roth said...


You said:

One justification (perhaps the main one) for pursuing technology as far as possible, is military advantage.

There's an Arthur C. Clarke story called "Superiority" that addresses this exact point. It's been suggested that it should be required reading in our military academies.

Charly Chan said...

Hello, I had read your articles for a while, but this is the first time I write.
I am an atheist, but I find curious your idea of atheists assemblies. To me being an atheist is "not believe in the idea of God," and not "believe in the idea of no God."
Then the idea of assemblies of atheist is alien to me. I don't think that makes sense to hold regular meetings with people who don't share a belief, because the absence of a belief is not a belief.

Ed-M said...

OT, but somebody mentioned the USA "two-party system" last week and the Archdruid said he expected both parties to no longer to be existence by 2065. Well it looks like the Democrats might no longer be in existence by 2020, for they are not renewing themselves at the State and Local levels.

[snip] [bold emphasis mine]

Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble.
Updated by Matthew Yglesias on October 19, 2015

The Democratic Party is in much greater peril than its leaders or supporters recognize, and it has no plan to save itself.

Yes, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in his seventh year in office. Yes, Republicans can't find a credible candidate to so much as run for speaker of the House. Yes, the GOP presidential field is led by a megalomaniacal reality TV star. All this is true — but rather than lay the foundation for enduring Democratic success, all it's done is breed a wrongheaded atmosphere of complacence.

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won't lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.

Not only have Republicans won most elections, but they have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House. But Democrats have nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot. Democrats aren't even talking about how to improve on their weak points, because by and large they don't even admit that they exist.

Instead, the party is focused on a competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over whether they should go a little bit to Obama's left or a lot to his left, options that are unlikely to help Democrats down-ballot in the face of an unfriendly House map and a more conservative midterm electorate. The GOP might be in chaos, but Democrats are in a torpor.


dltrammel said...

First, a couple of links to article not related to the present discussions.

For JMG, here is a couple of articles on the vulnerability of aircraft carriers.

Yahoo quick overview: "Retired US Navy captain: The centerpiece of the Navy's future doubles down on a 20-year-old strategic mistake"

His point is that the US Navy has cut the range that attack aircraft can fly, which makes aircraft carriers vulnerable to long range missiles.

Longer more detailed briefing: "Retreat from Range: The Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation"

Next, it seems more people are talking about what the future might bring, and its not all bright and shiny.

"America At A Crossroads: 4 Ways It Could Go

Personally I think the author is still too optimistic.

And finally, seems the Piper is coming due for his payment in the fraking bubble


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

(A) Tyler August must be corrected where he writes, with reference to 1837, that "the common people rebelled and failed". William Lyon Mackenzie, in taking up arms, did not have the support of all the commons. Many of the working and farming class, on the contrary, sided with the Crown. Toronto in 1837 was no 1789 Bastille. It is true that there was widespread 1837 discontent in the commons - a discontent which I for one heartily endorse - with the "Family Compact" oligarchy (in other words, with the lack of a parliamentary authority fully answerable to the electorate), and with a public atmosphere chilling to freedom of the press. But these complaints of the commons were addressed by reforms instituted after Lord Elgin wrote his (1848??) report for the Crown. Indeed the very Wikipedia article which Mr August uses sums up these colonial politics in a single trenchant, and error-correcting, sentence: "The Family Compact emerged from the War of 1812 and collapsed in the aftermath of the Rebellions of 1837."

A little postscript on terminology may be helpful here. "Upper Canada" was official from 1791 to 1841. This term was superseded by "Canada West". But "Canada West" had nothing to do with the Prairies and the Rockies. "Canada West" meant, rather, the western, i.e., the Upper-Canada, half of the big "United Province of Canada". The still bigger Dominion of Canada came into existence in 1867, by roping in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and making provisions for eventual provincial legislatures all the way out to the Pacific coast. "Upper Canada" is in use here and there in our common speech, most notably in discussions of architectural or other cultural forms of colonial heritage, and in the name of our bar association - "Law Society of Upper Canada".

We additionally do well to remind ourselves that William Lyon Mackenzie, after some years of USA exile, returned to Toronto, serving once again in the Legislative Assembly. I would urge Tyler Johnson to walk through the house museum near St Michael's Cathedral, at 82 Bond Street in Toronto. The museum preserves, as a fly is preserved in amber, Mr Mackenzie's soberly constrained domestic arrangements from the time his second Legislative Assembly career ended and friends helped him stay decently housed.

I now recapitulate my principal point, which is a double point. (a) Far from it being the case that "the common people rebelled and failed", the 1837 rebellion was undertaken only by a faction within the commons. (b) Far from it being the case that the rebellion failed, its goals were, under the perspicacious recommendations of Lord Elgin, attained.

((((posting continued below, with points (B) and (C) ))))

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

(((( posting continued from above))))

(B) Tyler August must additionally be corrected when he asserts that my suburb of Richmond Hill is Toronto's wealthiest. The wealthiest is not Richmond Hill. It may be far-away Oakville. So far as the immediate vicinity of Richmond Hill is concerned, the smart money is these days flowing not into Richmond Hill but into neighbouring Aurora.

I must additionally remark, lest anyone be under misapprehensions, that I am myself remarkably and egregiously and outstandingly poor, having sacrificed the bulk of my life savings to Richmond Hill's David Dunlap Observatory forest-conservation case. (We in essence lost: much detail can be had from Google News, by searching on the obvious terms. What is saved is 45 hectares out of 77. That is loss, not victory.)

Finally, (C) I should correct one of the Mr August's misspellings. "Supperating bowl of leeches" suggests something to do with the serving of leeches at supper (a culinary experiment with, admittedly, potential advantages). What, however, Tyler August likely meant was "suppurating bowl of leeches" (i.e., "bowl oozing pus"; here there is no culinary reference).

Hoping these comments help,
and looking forward to further advocacy and debate from this podium,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo, in Richmond Hill,
approx 25 km north of Toronto core,
perhaps 10 km south of Aurora

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thank you so much, Danil Osipchuk, for details on streetcars (or light rail, or trolleys, or trams), currently linking Moscow and St Petersburg in three hops.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Oh jeepers, sorry: I meant to write not "I would urge Tyler Johnson to walk" but "I would urge Tyler August to walk".

Well, actually I would urge the walk on anyone, whether the (nonexistent?) Tyler Johnson, or on the actual ADR blog contributors Tyler August and August Johnson. The Bond Street house is a nice, compact, museum, vigorously conveying the texture of 1850s Toronto middle-middle-class or lower-middle-class domesticity. The newspaper press room downstairs is an additional bonus, suggesting how much work went into typesetting before the advent of Linotype and Monotype.



zaphod42 said...

@Charly Chan

Your insight is apropos to my earlier remark, and the response by @patriciaormsby. I have made this precise distinction in email exchanges with the late Chris Hitchens, and with Richard Dawkins. Their version is, or appears to me to be, precisely that being an atheist means you affirm that there is no god - which I cannot do since there is and can be no evidence one way or the other, by definition.

I can understand an assembly of people who are like minded, but do not have shared beliefs, though. Skeptic, free thinker, and the like, are terms that fairly represent my state of mind on such matters. And, again, the availability of a place wherein others might share ideas is good. I truly doubt that many discussions of gods would take place in any event, there being no real vocabulary available for such.

And, I doubt many would attend regularly, should such become available; nor would Sunday be any better for such meetings than Tuesday or Friday. So what I would see would be a regular place for irregular assembly of like minded individuals for topical discussions from time to time. Sort of sounds like trying to herd cats, to me!


dltrammel said...

Eric said:
"We members of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association have decided to call our chapters “Towers,” and to extend recognition and membership rights to all traveling Green Wizards."

Interesting, I always viewed conclaves of Green Wizards gathered around circular mazes, where the initiate began in the center and slowly worked their way outward. Each added layer of maze being one more added set of skills. With short cuts here and there, since not all people will want to learn every skill set.

Its one of the reasons I called the various categories of skills over on the GW forum "Circles". As much as I think there will be some Green Wizards during the next Dark Age who are skilled at martial arts and war, I think most Green Wizards will be the kind that are a more zen like, inclusive practitioner, teaching to the people of their village as opposed to the local warlord or baron.

Bootstrapper said:
"One justification (perhaps the main one) for pursuing technology as far as possible, is military advantage. A country that deliberately chooses technological regression, however good it is for its people and economy, leaves itself vulnerable to domination by rivals with more 'advanced' military technology, backed by equally 'advanced' industrial capability."

Tell that to ISIS who without a air force or major tech base seems just fine at ignoring a certain superpower's drones and air strikes.

Its been my read that powers who subscribe to the "the latest tech is best" argument put forth by their own military-industrial complex usually pays for alot of expensive toys to fight the last war, and then gets their butt handed to them by a newer enemy who doesn't oblige them by making the mistakes the previous enemy of that power did.

Oh, and what others said: the Arthur C. Clarke story called "Superiority"

Given the choice, what would you outfit your airforce with today? F18 Hornets and A10 Warthogs, or F35s?

dltrammel said...

Loved your explanation of the the upside of automation versus the downside of human staff, but I would go further.

Many major corporations, my current employer included, self fund their medical insurance. So the more medical needs the workforce has the less profits there are for the 1% running things. We are a non-public company and family owned so at least Corporate management doesn't have to please shareholders, but the owner started the company in 1945 and is in his 80s. While he is very "my employees are family" we are worried what his heirs will do when he kicks the bucket.

Also remember a long term employee costs more and more money, as they get raises. Training will increase the employee's efficiency to a certain point, usually 2-3 years of steady work, after that they level off. So a company is paying more and more for a piece of equipment that doesn't make them any more money.

Funny thing about a "shortage of is people who are willing to put in an honest day’s work for an honest wage". I had a discussion with our plant manager the other day. He was saying he leaning towards hiring just people over 40. Of the younger men he's hire recently 2 out of 3 don't last long.

Honestly we work very hard here. We supply a variety of industries, metal from 1/8th inch rods to steel bridge beams and ship almost a million pounds out a week out. The Collapse might be coming but we're not seeing it right now.

The couple of older men he has hired in this year don't seem to have a problem with the 48-55 hours a week and no air conditioning, sweat soaked clothing when you get home, dirty hands and such.

This of course means that the cost of those "meat automations" in medical bills will be higher. It will be interesting to see how this company handles the next big stair step downturn.

Leo Knight said...

This week's essay had special significance for me. Our governor, Larry Hogan, announced a revamp of Baltimore's bus system. I happen to live along a road that once had a streetcar line that ran out to the next county. Not anymore.

I'm also reading Harry Turtledove's "Supervolcano" series. After Yellowstone blows, flinging cubic miles of ash into the atmosphere, parts of the country fall back to the 18th century. Fuel and food in short supply, electricity spotty or gone, chopping firewood, backyard gardens...sound familiar?

August Johnson said...

James Gemmill - Lindsay's material continues to be distributed through Your Old Time Bookstore

A wealth of good information!

Amy Olles said...

I'm enjoying reading all the details other readers have picked up on about the story almost more than the story itself. There's many take aways from your narrative and it proves your ability as a writer to present such neatly packaged installments of this story that contain as much or more information between the lines as on the lines. Bravo!
I came to comment specifically on the last two installments where you boldy story how a return to older ways doesn't mean a return to the reigning beliefs at the time those ways were common: the marriage and the atheists. I actually perked up quite a bit when I read today's installment. As a "recovering christian" (self picked moniker there) I was relieved to see that in your future you allow for freedom of thought/belief and at least the ability for people to admit in public that they aren't a partaker in any established religion. Perhaps that means the government is also separate from the church both nominally and in practice. Or perhaps the gov and the church have learned to get along without trespassing over each others spheres of influence and do good together by then... I hope that the future is that kind.
I recently read a wonderful book of fiction and in the futuristic scenario presented, played out in a small corner of Ireland, the community had bigger fish to fry than nit pick about who believes what, they were trying to make ends meet afterall, till an enterprising jesus zealot and new priest looking for higher attendance got together and realized that the political scene (election was forthcoming to replace a retiring mayor) was ripe to pressure the locals into joining the church, if only only because the candidate they were backing was going to be in the pocket of the priest and thus wouldn't mayor in a fair and equitable fashion to those who weren't in the fold. I could see that scenario playing out all too easily and it was quite unsettling. The despite the velvet glove of "you want to be on god's side, because he will give good things to his children" the iron fist of their campaign was motivated completely by power grabbing and control. It was a thought provoking and disheartening read.
To the early commenter who was talking about technological advance and military..yes. The defense sector funds a LOT of research on advancing technology. However as someone else already stated - more advanced doesn't quate to 'guaranteed to win'. Technology advances seem to mean more complex interplay between things/people, and I am beginning to think that is almost always the wrong answer (unless it works seamlessly. And then it's like magic. But it usually doesn't.) But yet Complex integration of ways to send and receive data from/to various platforms in different locations is what our technology either is, or is demanding in order to keep it afloat. I oft find myself thinking that we are our own worst enemy...designing, funding and making things that won't be magical or terribly useful if their support system and energy sources go away.

Caryn said...


I've thought of that too. In addition to my fellow commenters replies, I would add that the Atlantic Republic is an extrapolation of the current US, if/as we go on our current trajectory. A massive and bloated MIC is does not mean the most well funded and prepared military, ironically. Too much of the money/resources going into that cauldron are siphoned off, purposefully to the pockets of contractors, lobbyists, politicians and the military gets the F-35, (as discussed on earlier threads at length), $600 hammers and so on. It doesn't make the military stronger, but weaker.

As the Atlantic Republic has been described, their complexity and bloat /corruption at the top has them fairly well hamstrung from any real effective response. Not entirely sure they could even defend themselves against an invading enemy.

In relation to the US today, I think this is why we can and do do nothing against China's manmade island bases in the South Seas, why we will not directly take on Russia for intervening in Syria or Ukraine. AND military resources are also being siphoned off to militarize our domestic police forces, 'as if' the powers that be know there is likely to be a domestic insurrection. Crazy mess we're in, eh?

And only in addition to Unknown's comment on technology: JGM has said Lakeland has already put into place jammers, so Atlantic Republic's drones, GPS, and other electronic gizmos would not work there.

Having said all that - in some way, I think you're right - LLR, like every country, probably does need SOME form of military for defense against outside invasions. Perhaps they organize it like Israel; everyone of a certain age must serve their time in the military for 2-3 years. That's always sounded like a reasonable policy to me.

Wonder what their gun control / private gun ownership policy is?


Caryn said...

AND: So many thanks again, JGM and fellow commenters! I'm having a pretty bad week and this is the bright spot right now.

Really enjoying the story and discussions.

Will soon find myself donning 1940's dresses and stacked shoes soon!

Have a good day, everyone.

sgage said...

@ Charly Chan...

"the absence of a belief is not a belief."

You're kidding, right? Do you really *cough* believe that?

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Heavens, another mistake from my desk: in posting earlier today, when correcting Tyler August on Upper Canadian history, I referred to a report in the wake of the 1837 Rebellion by "Lord Elgin", and suggested 1848 as the year of the report. I should instead have cited Lord Durham. Durham's ship from Britain docked in Lower Canada in 1838, and Durham's report must have been written not long after that.

My mistake is the more painful because Durham is at present commemorated in the much-used name of a suburban Toronto region.



PS: Now that we are discussing JMG's prognostications for the political geography of lands to the north and northeast of Lakeland, it might be worth adding that for reasons of physical geography Upper Canada, as a 2065 jurisdiction, need not completely coincide with the Upper Canada of 1791. The natural physical-geography unit, as I remarked when introducing the now-controverted topic of Upper Canada a few weeks ago, is that part of Ontario which lies to the south of the daunting geological formation which is the Canadian Shield. South of the Shield, farming is good. On the Shield (it runs north pretty much to Hudson Bay, and west beyond today's Ontario) farming is difficult or impossible. On the Shield we have not the farms so prominent from train windows on the Toronto-Kingston-Montreal and Toronto-London-Windsor lines, but the dense forests so oppressive to the spirits of travellers on "Train One" out of Union Station to Sudbury and Sioux Lookout, headed for Vancouver. (This heavily forested terrain includes the "cottage country" to which Tyler August correctly refers.) So there may come a political fission, with the Shield lands no longer under the same jurisdiction as the south-of-Shield lands.

I would indeed now suggest that one possible evolution, whether by 2065 or in the longer term, sees the aboriginals obtain political supremacy on the Shield. The Shield lands are even today isolated. Their isolation will deepen as airlines and highways decline. This might strengthen the aboriginal political hand. Much is, admittedly, contingent in coming decades on the skill and self-confidence of the relevant aboriginal negotiators.

The present-day Ontario Sault Ste Marie is admittedly in the Upper Canada of 1791, as a kind of remote fringe domain at the very edge of the erstwhile colonial map. But being on the Shield, the terrain around Ontario Sault Ste Marie might find itself not in the Upper Canada of 2065. In 2065, physical geography, in particular the geography of agronomy (in an epoch of radical food insecurity) will play a role in determining political boundaries.

Whether or not the Michigan Sault Ste Marie abuts the Upper Canada of 2065 or not, JMG's words this week about trade with Upper Canada can stand without modification: the present-day Michigan Ste Marie, to which JMG refers, will indeed be conducting a vigorous trade with such essentially (very markedly off-Shield, very farming-secure) Upper-Canada centres as London, Windsor, Brantford, Toronto, and Kingston. Such a trade is all JMG is implying in the words he puts into the mouth of Peter Carr: "...and watched a brand new Mikkelson streetcar get hooked up to overhead power lines, tested one last time, and driven away on tracks to the siding where it would be loaded aboard a train and shipped to its destination - Sault Ste. Marie, Chu explained, which was expanding its streetcar system now that the borders were open and trade with Upper Canada had the local economy booming."


gjh42 said...

Charly Chan - You may be right about atheists in general, but the capitalized "Atheist" in the story implies some specific definition or organization. The Unitarian Universalist congregation which my best friend belongs to includes atheists, pagans, and who knows how many other flavors of belief and non-belief, principally united by a dedication to free exploration of spirituality as well as community.
It's not a far stretch to see "Atheist Assemblies" modeled on similar lines; after all, exploration is a rational pursuit, and community is valuable no matter your beliefs or absence thereof.

Myriad said...

Regarding the motivations for, and eventual consequences of, automation: When I was a kid, I had a trove of a dozen or so MAD magazines from the 60s and early 70s, which I read over and over (not being allowed to buy new ones, as they cost money). One of them included a parody of the then-recently-released film version of the musical "Camelot."

For some reason, instead of straightforwardly mocking the movie, the writers decided to rewrite it as a story about a modern (as of the late 60s) labor dispute. There was a preamble about how knights and wizards were no longer relevant (apologies to present company), but I suspect the real reason was to justify the awkward parody title "Can A Lot," as in "can" (fire or lay off) "a lot" of (many) employees. In any case, the result is that the piece is more a commentary on the labor disputes of its time than about the musical.

The plot is simple. The management (headed by the "Arthur" character) can't meet the demands of the labor union (headed by "Mordred"), so the laborers strike. (This is in part because the demands are objectively unreasonable; recall how crypto-reactionary MAD magazine has always been.) Arthur wants to "can the lot of them," but contract terms and labor laws don't permit it. The consultant ("Merlin," of course) gives Arthur an ingenious alternative, pointing out that the union members jobs are protected by law only as long as those jobs exist. Merlin and Arthur sing (to the tune of the original musical's title song "Camelot"):

They'll holler that your heart is black as onyx
But they cannot escape their awful fate
We'll just replace them all with electronics
And automate...

In the final panels, the workers have been replaced by stereotypically anthropomorphic robots, that themselves revolt and burn the factory down. No one wins, and no one looks good.

Okay, it would have been more prophetic if the robots had relocated themselves to Taiwan instead, but still, not bad for 1968. The real point of my bringing this up is to show that automation's destructive effect on labor's political power has always been fairly obvious, though rarely acknowledged.

Myriad said...

On a completely different subtopic: It occurs to me that Carr's awareness of the risks of being dependent on a foreign resource is likely to be reinforced when he realizes his natty new wool suit is dry clean only. I doubt there are many neighborhood dry cleaning shops in the Atlantic Republic! (Of course, he might not want to wear his new suit back home anyhow, since he dislikes being stared at.)

Actually, keeping all those retro suits clean seems a thorny problem even in Lakeland, when all life-cycle costs must be accounted for. It's beyond my expertise to recommend a method, but it could be a case where the increased complexity of more recent versions of the technology might be preferable over the simpler but more materially wasteful (and unhealthy) retro versions.

Anselmo said...

I ask your authorization for to upload to “foro crashoil” a translation to Spanish of your paper “How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse”

Tyler August said...

@Toomas Karmo,

All of your historiography is, in fact, correct, now that you have given Lord Durham his due. As are your corrections to my spelling, which I must sheepishly admit. My statement was 'what we learn in schools,' however, which can be different from what occurred. Of course, I am constantly (and quite sick of) hearing how schools in the south are superior, so YMMV. History class might be more nuanced than 'Anglos came and oppressed the Natives, oppressed the French, and oppressed themselves. Also we beat the US twice, so Canada is amazing.'
I stand corrected re: Richmond Hill; and even were it still true, I should not have included that, regardless. That was low, and I apologize. I was already aware of your work with the Dunlap, and greatly respect you for it. Our difference is simply that you are a patriot of your country -- Upper Canada -- and I of mine, that Precambrian Shield you think of as desolate. I did live briefly in Upper Canada, however, and think it would be a fine little country if it kept to its own borders and found a way to keep the GTA from metastasizing. Probably a better little country than mine, by all rights, with more fertile soils, a more forgiving climate, and not riven by Franco-English rivalries and the shame of third-world-poor native communities. It's just not my country. But then, "Mon pays c'est pas un pays, c'est l'Hiver..."

(I would encourage you to take the Northlander up into the Nippising area and the Clay Belts, rather than Train One through Sudbury, to get a different picture of our agricultural potential, but you can't. Toronto canned it. In the North, passenger rail is a terrible subsidy; in the South, the GO Trains are a marvelous investment. Resentment? Yes. It comes to me with mother's milk; I am a fourth-generation Northern Ontario separatist. Some have wanted free of Toronto since New Ontario was being settled, or very nearly. To say nothing of the Natives, who have had a much greater grievance since the treaties were signed.)

Charly Chan said...

gjh42 - the "dedication to free exploration of spirituality and community" is a belief that you can share, but the absence of a belief is other thing. I can't see myself being part of the congregation of atheists more than I can see myself as part of the congregation of believers that the earth is not flat.

Unknown said...

For Jo from Tasmania

Go to and you might run into a few people who share your views in the comments. I will keep an look out for you there.

The editor Linz can forward your contact details to those you think might share your views if you feel inclined to explore ideas outside the comments arena.

If you are in the NW of the state I can introduce you to a few.


Eagle eye

Yooper said...

Perhaps the twin Soo's will be under one flag, 50 years from now? This much is almost assured, the populations from the eastern seaboard (due to ocean encroachment) and the southwest (due to arid conditions) will have to shift somewhere. Possibly the then halved population will mostly reside around the Great Lake region by 2065? I'm certainly not advocating an even higher population around the twin Soo's but perhaps the population will be much the same, as it is now? Even though Soo, Canada does have a steel manufacturer, it's being the "transportation hub" that has kept both sides of the boarder going for quite sometime and appears to be solid into the future.

Both sides have aggressively made progress attempting to assure electrical energy. I can remember well driving over the old street car rail system back in the early 1970's even though by that time they had been abandoned. I'm quite certain that steel was salvaged, transported "across the river" and then made into new modern heavy rail track.

Yup, I think this could be spot on about the economy here booming in 2065. The twin Soo's are one of the oldest settlements in North America, seeing many ups and downs along the way, but still in existence today.

Shane Wilson said...

lots of questions and comments.
I see Chu's comments channelling Schumacher and Ghandi, and the Ecotechnic future...
For clarification, is this strictly an assembly plant, in that the parts are actually made elsewhere and brought there to be assembled? I ask because while it may be possible to assemble a streetcar using just human labor, I'd imagine some basic machinery including a foundry and tool & die processes, among others, are required to actually make the parts even in the least automated factory.
How are wages and benefits guaranteed in Lakeland, considering the focus on workers over tech/automation? What are the laws on collective bargaining and organized labor? Are they allowed?
I was disappointed to see social security had survived in the Lakeland Republic. I was thinking back to your post regarding "the end of Retirement" of how we will return to older forms of elder care whereby elders are cared for in extended families in exchange for supporting the household economy. Considering how entitlements like Social Security and Medicare have allowed today's old people to abandon their collective responsibility to future generations, the sooner social security and other old age entitlements can be abandoned in favor of a general stipend to family members for elder care, the better. I'm surprised that social security still exists in Lakeland.
I'm hoping that the Atheists at the Lakeland Assemblies don't resemble the "Angry Atheists" you've skewered here on the blog in the past. I'm guessing that they resemble Agnostic spiritual seekers more than today's "Angry Atheists". I'm saying this because I don't see the gods that today's atheists worship (secular humanism, progress, Socialism, Bernie Sanders, international bodies/organizations, the US, materialism) coming out the other end of a Civil War and the unrest you've mentioned no worse for the wear.
Sorry to just now get back to you regarding county consolidation in KY. My guess is that like most things, it will come by fiscal necessity. Many of the rural counties, particularly in Appalachia, depend on federal funding, such as the ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) to keep things funded. My guess is that most of these poorer counties will go bankrupt in a post Civil War KY, where the federal funding they depend on has dried up (since the Federal Government will, by definition, no longer exist). By necessity, they'll probably be consolidated until they achieve the necesary economy of scale to function on their own. The wealthy, urban counties like Jefferson (Louisville), Fayette (Lexington), Campbell (Covington), Kenton (Newport) may not suffer the same fate if they can afford to provide basic county government services without consolidation.
Off topic, but not really, I'm wondering if any other nation, in Holy Roman Empire fashion, will be interested in picking up the USA name after the Second Civil War makes the name available? I'm thinking Mexico (Estados Unidos Mexicanos/United Mexican States) would be a good candidate since they'll be the only united states left in North America, but maybe Brazil would want the name, too? They'd be united states of America, only in South America instead of North. I'm not sure if Argentina has states? Or Chile? Latin America never like they way US'ians refer to themselves as "Americans", anyway.

Shane Wilson said...

one other thing, if global warming has progressed so much that KY and southern Ind./Ill. are growing cotton and other Southern crops, would it really be chilly/cold in Nov. in Toledo?

Aron Blue said...

I love my weekly trip to Retrotopia very much. Streetcars. Are you serious. And real libraries? I thought these were just my personal fantasies.

This week on Retrotopia Radio I present .. video. Here's a fascinating documentary on the early women of rockabilly. My goodness they were quite talented. And raw. If we could just get to a society that valued both musicians and women more, everyone would be having a much better time on a day to day basis. I swear.

onething said...


"Also atheism is not a rejection of human morality."

I never herd that atheists were supposed to reject morality. Rather, that if the atheists are right about the universe, there is no real defensible basis for it.

Michelle said...

I haven't spoken up here much lately, but wanted to respond to dltrammel's query: "Given the choice, what would you outfit your airforce with today? F18 Hornets and A10 Warthogs, or F35s?" with this answer - I'd prefer A-10s for land-based, but please could we have back the F-14s and A-6s? The F-18 does neither mission well, has shorter fuel legs, and requires 1.4-1.7ish crew members to do its mission. The US Navy operates it as a single-piloted aircraft without a Flight Officer, though the USMC does have two crew members for their F-18s. Having served on a carrier once upon a time, and having queried the Hornet jocks about why they think their aircraft is so hot when it needs to refuel immediately after the cat shot, their response was, "the rest of the air wing needs to change its procedures to accommodate us." Er... really?


I am also shouting out to Violet Cabra, whom I saw this afternoon unexpectedly, to my great delight. Having seen you, Violet, led me into a great conversation about the ADR and the ideas herein with the friend who was in town visiting.

Pantagruel7 said...

Re Charly Chan's comments on belief: recall that "ch'an" is the Chinese word for Zen, and statements with double negations like, "To me being an atheist is 'not believe in the idea of God,' and not 'believe in the idea of no God,'" are also quite typical of Zen. And yet Zen atheists (or perhaps "non-theists" is better) do meet together frequently, for whatever that is worth.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Charly Chan,

Your logic is flawed and I'll give you a quick run down of the flaw.

Firstly you write: "I am an atheist"

That statement displays your beliefs in that you identify with a belief system that incorporates the generally understood meaning of the word "atheist". Since the whole matter cannot be proven one way or another, your value systems are displaying the general meanings of the word “belief” and identify with this school of thought. i.e. You have a belief!

Again you write: "the absence of a belief is not a belief"

You are both correct and incorrect in that assertion. Of course one is not the other, but because you displayed your belief values previously, in the English language, you are caught out because you are trying to have the argument both ways and they are contradictory desires and thus the logic comes into conflict.

My understanding of JMG's story and worldview is that he believes that some atheists are every bit as rabid and dogmatic as religious fundamentalists and so he is stirring them up a bit with the story by pointing this fact out. You can watch atheists having an emotional response to such suggestions to see that his point of view is correct.

Seriously, if you disbelieve in a God or Gods then an atheist would simply say: "God, it's just this spirit, you know!" - and then go off and do something else and not think any more about it. But the problem is that they don't do that, they display all of the characteristics of devout believers and sometimes I personally wonder whether they swapped one belief for another belief...

No stress, we're all good, I just wanted to point out what some of your words look like to other people and maybe you can take my bit of advice and just be cool.



John Michael Greer said...

I've still got very limited internet access, so will only be able to respond to direct questions. I appreciate everyone's interest in this post and the ongoing narrative!

Anthony, on the other hand, you might consider the possibility that interns have an easier time of it in 2065!

Escape, no, as already noted, it has foreign trade.

Iangagn, you're welcome and thank you. Ms. Chu is Chinese-American -- her ancestors have been in North America since the 1900s.

Scotlyn, yes, that's also an option. Have you considered writing a utopian narrative of your own?

Brian, of course there's smuggling. If you get caught with a product on which taxes haven't been paid, though, you get to pay three times the assessed taxes -- and no, it doesn't matter if you didn't do the smuggling! It keeps a lid on things.

Raven, well, we'll be going with Carr to a meeting, so you can decide for yourself.

Brian, no -- I'll put her on the get-to list.

Cherokee, I'm not surprised in the least. I expect that, shortly before the bottom drops out, pundits will be insisting that anybody who doubts the imminent arrival of Paradise on earth, courtesy of unfettered corporate economics, should be drugged into submission because they're obviously mentally ill.

James, I may just have Carr walk through a drafting room as we proceed. Yes, they use paper and ink.

Wayne, the counteracting economic force is precisely the lack of subsidies for automation and the lack of penalties for employing human beings. That makes labor more cost-effective, thus tending to drive up wages because -- as in any other economic situation -- the more valuable something is, the more can be charged for it, in this case by the workers themselves.

Zaphod, it's already happening in some places. I see the Atheist Assemblies emerging after the current generation of angry atheists dies off, and a new generation that values social ties comes on the scene.

Max Osman said...

Here's a speech by General Qiao Liang who is one of the top members of china's brass.

It's a pretty interesting read tbh.

John Michael Greer said...

Toomas, we'll get to ownership as things proceed.

Yooper, why, yes -- just as soon as the cars can get there from the Mikkelson plant!

Bootstrapper, we'll be getting to the military dimension in a great deal of detail in an upcoming post. For now, suffice it to say that complex technology isn't necessarily a military advantage, and it can become a spectacular disadvantage if the other side simply focuses on targeting the technology. More on this as we proceed!

Tyler, so noted. If you want to come up with a plausible way that Toronto might be utterly devastated and depopulated by 2065, I'll consider incorporating that in the story -- though I'll give Toomas K. the opportunity for a rebuttal.

Gavin, no, I'm married to a retired bookkeeper and office manager, and have simply paid attention to the perverse incentives hardwired into business as usual. My book The Wealth of Nature and EF Schumacher's book Small is Beautiful are the only things I can think of that talk about these points.

Charly, that sort of dictionary atheism is great for scoring points in internet debates but it's not helpful for understanding human social phenomena, or much of anything else. The vast majority of atheists I've met don't simply lack a belief in gods -- they believe that gods do not exist, and very often invest a great deal of emotional energy in that belief. Falsifying that with a skewed definition isn't useful, here or elsewhere.

Myriad, I remember that issue of Mad. Blast from the past! As for the suit -- er, were you under the impression that nobody wore wool suits before the invention of dry cleaning? Au contraire...

Anselmo, you may certainly do so, as long as your translation has my name and a link to this blog on it.

Shane, yes, the Toledo plant is an assembly plant -- parts are forged, cast, or fabricated elsewhere. As to the other points, stay tuned!

Caryn said...

Hi Myriad,

re:dry-cleaning / keeping retro woolens cleaned. LLR may or may not have dry cleaners. A lot of woolens can be hand washed and lain flat to dry then steamed or lightly pressed back into shape. For tailored woolens, like suits, coats, trousers, etc. 1) they can be cleaned far less often than we are used to today. Washing and even dry cleaning breaks down the fibers, distorts the dye colors, shortening the life of the garments.
2) They can be spot cleaned as needed, or hung in a room with the window open for aerating, hung up in a bathroom for general steaming, or use a steam iron to get it back into proper shape.
But my favorite: 3) You can also spritz them with vodka, (an old theater costume trick) which absorbs odors, kills bacteria. Then air out, steam and shape to wear. Works wonders!

I think in the 'old days', they also wore more (easily washable) under-clothing, like slips, boxer shorts and such, protecting the wearer from itchy wool and protecting the wool from wearer's sweat.

Not saying you're implying this, but, I think super-frequent laundering is another late-20th C. thing we've been taught is an absolute must for decency or basic hygiene. Most of the time, clothes, (except underwear) don't need to be washed every day or after every wearing. We've just been taught that we're nasty and dirty if we don't.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Tyler, thanks so much for informative follow-up comments!

Thanks, in particular, for pointing to metastatization of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as a public policy problem. This is at the root of Richmond Hill's David Dunlap Observatory conservation crisis, and is at the root of current difficulties a few kilometres farther north with the Oak Ridges Moraine, and more generally is at the root of current property-developer attempts to whittle away the GTA Greenbelt. It is particularly distressing that some of the land being threatened or destroyed is farming land of a high quality, liable to be valued once GTA's food supply becomes less secure. The GTA metastatization is a corroboration of James Howard Kunstler's critique of suburbia.

For the benefit of readers outside Ontario, I will amplify a little on Tyler's illuminating remark regarding the Northlander. Until 2012, we had a nice passenger service, under the banner of the "Northlander" and "Polar Bear Express", taking people from Union Station in Toronto first to Cochrane, and then onward to Hudson Bay tidewater at Moosonee. In 2012, a large part of this service was axed, leaving only the Cochrane-Moosonee, i.e. the Polar Bear Express, run. Toronto-Cochrane passengers are now instead served by buses. Some sense of what has been lost can be had by searching Google Images under the string

Gravenhurst station

I was hoping some day to take the trains from Union to Moosonee, but kept putting it off. This decision proves in retrospect unfortunate.


PS: Yes, the Soo (Yooper takes up this question): it would make sense for the Michigan and Ontario Soos to unite, and for them to unite under something other than the jurisdiction of Upper Canada. From a Toronto perspective, even the Ontario Soo seems remote - remote like Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmins, Cochrane, and Kenora, and in a different bioregion from Toronto's (centrally and paradigmatically Upper-Canadian) sister cities of Kingston, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Brantford, Windsor, et al. Present-day Ontario is an artificial, bloated, political construct.

Shane Wilson said...

I meant to reference Wealth of Nature instead of Ecotechnic Future in my earlier post...

Tidlösa said...

A propos "Back to the Future", I always considered both futures in the sequel to be negative, and that was during my techno-mania/Progress period. The "positive" future is too commercial and "American", and most of the inventions are gizmos, not real high-tech (space stations, fusion reactors, making the Sahara bloom, etc). One of Doc´s trinkets even looks like an I-pod!

As for atheism, dare I intervene in that debate? ;-)

Of course atheists have a belief - most of them believe most strongly in, ahem, materialism (usually with "the scientific method" á la positivism, utilitarian morality and Neo-Darwinism as parts of the mix).

That´s a positive belief, not just a lack of a belief.

Besides, the lack of belief in Jehova/Christ/Allah/your friendly neighborhood Archdruid also has consequences, making it a belief by default. For instance, if I don´t believe that JMG exists, this may have belief-like consequences when confronted with his bearded countenance on the web...

The Atheist Assemblies might just pop up one of these days. Weren´t the old Humanists a bit like Quakers without Christ? So yes, when Dawkins finally goes out of fashion, perhaps the old school Humanism (combined with libertarian socialism, vegetarianism and Esperanto!) might stage a come back. Sounds almost like the local branch of Theosophy...

Eargerly awaiting the next round of Retrotopia, especially the ownership/union question and the "drone shooting". Also eagerly awaiting the next moonless night in Syria, since the Russians didn´t attack Raqqa this time. I hope the IS haven´t learned Lakeland drone shooting!

Patricia Mathews said...

So how were woolens cleaned? Hand-washed in cold water and air-dried in the sunshine sounds like a decent bet. OTH, I would not care to have a nice wool skirt suit cleaned the way the Romans cleaned their togas! Pee-ewww!

Jason Heppenstall said...

@Toomas. Thanks - I just noticed your comment. I was sitting her puzzling as to why the sales had suddenly gone up in the last few days. Of course, a lot of the things I wrote about in that book are down to the essays and discussions that I have been reading here for the last five years - so, thanks all!

Nastarana said...

About Social Security and pensions. What these are is deferred wages. Western societies in general, and Americans in particular, are much criticized by people from other traditions about our alleged cruelty to and neglect of, our elders.
However, I know of few other societies willing to tax themselves to provide a stipend for their elders to live in conditions of modest dignity and independence.

Consider some of the consequences if Social Security in particular were eliminated. Retail business profits would fall precipitously, because not only would seniors have no money to spend, but younger generations would curtail all nonessential spending to save for their own retirement years. Older workers would cling to their jobs by any means, fair or foul, they could.

There was some discussion of end of life care last week. I had no health insurance for many years. I now have $100 deducted from SS for Medicare 2, which is absolutely useless to me, because it covers neither dental care or glasses, which are the only sorts of health care I presently need. I consider it a kind of tax, which at least goes to public use; what I personally resent are private taxes, which is what I consider private health insurance to be. My heirs have been told, in no uncertain terms, that under no circumstances is my life to be unnaturally prolonged. I would point out, that to the extent that anyone has bought into the ideology of business is entitled to maximize its profits at all costs, you have no one but yourself to blame for the present state of affairs. At some point, reasonable and sensible price controls will have to be imposed on health care, rents, and utilities.

Vesta said...

Hi all,

With trepidation, I'd like to add a personal note to the discussion on atheism. I apologize in advance if my understanding of religion or atheism does not align with others'. However I think that my beliefs are common among quiet atheists, and deserve more open discussion.

I call myself an atheist because I have chosen not to include the idea of a supernatural creator in my attempts to understand the world and my place in it. This does not mean I affirm the absence of a creator. It means only that there is one less unknowable idea for me to incorporate in to my world view, which appeals to me because I like things simpler.

This also does not mean that I believe that science and rationality can discern the answers to all life's important questions. And the believers I know tell me their religions don't do that either, so I don't think that I'm losing an opportunity for deeper understanding of my place in the world.

Nor does it mean that I see a world absent of mystery, or that I think the universe or my place in it is knowable in any objective sense. In fact, my personal experience tells me the opposite: there are too many coincidences, too many serendipitous encounters, too much beauty and harmony. My gut tells me the universe can't all be just be inanimate material with the occasional accidental outpost of of life.

But I am comfortable with this, full stop. No gods required.

Myriad said...

Heh, no, I wasn't under the impression that nobody wore wool suits before dry cleaning, but I was (and still am) under the impression that wool outerwear was rarely washed before then. Especially tailored outerwear. (Loose-fitting or draped wool outerwear, such as Roman togas, offered more options.) Some wool fabrics allow gentle rinsing with soap and water (without agitation in tubs or use of washboards), but it seems most had to make do with brushing, airing, and various means of scenting.

It appears that in many cultures in many time periods, including 19th century America prior to dry cleaning, wool suits and dresses weren't washed. I haven't found positive confirmation of that for suits, but I've read descriptions of high-quality wool dresses from mid 19th century America in museums, that examination showed had been long worn but never washed. Layers of washable linen undergarments were used to protect the outerwear fabric from within, and aprons and so forth protected from soiling from outside.

The tale about Abraham Lincoln getting a new suit dirty to rescue a mired pig gains significance (and loses plausibility by the same degree).

As best I can tell, a wool suit worn regularly by an urban Lakeland businessman, in the absence of dry cleaning, but well-tended otherwise with regular sun airing, brushing, and spot cleaning... would hardly be the reeking vermin-infested horror of biophobic fantasy, but it would tend to be a little funky. I imagine that Carr would expect to be able to clean his, unless hardships back in Philly have led to changing attitudes about laundry there too.

james albinson said...

A note on the factory... If it is assembly only, then the place where the parts are produced must have excellent metrology (measurement) facilities, and the ability to quality control to better than 1/1000th inch. Either there is ONE base factory, with a self consistent set of standards, like Johanson blocks, micrometers, etc, or a set of factories with very strict quality standards indeed using a common set of standards. The subject of industrial metrology is little appreciated today outside of the industries that need them, but it is utterly vital if you are to have interchangable parts from different manufacturers. It is only since 1841 (Whitworth standard thread) that we have had such standards. In the case of a breakdown in civilisation, I fear we would loose much standardisation, and it would be difficult to regain such commonality. Even with careful standardisation of manufacture, there was a class of artisan called a 'fitter' in every organisation from steam traction works, to WWII aircraft squadron mechanics and later, who scraped, filed, sanded and polished not-quite-accurate-enough parts until they could be mashed together to make things work. I am really not sure that an assembly only factory would work unless the system could tolerate a rather high rejection/return rate of parts without 'fitting', and the necessary (potentially large) machines to do the same. An example would be the Crewe (UK) LMS engine works. I have seen archive film of the construction of a main-line loco from steel billits/sheets, through steam hammering of 16 foot piston rods (hand carried by gangs of men), turning of wheels on huge lathes, rolling of sheets of metal into boilers, etc. Thing is, all of the manufacture and assembly was done on one site, with a common set of standards. Thus all LMS locos of a class could interchange some parts (but even so, not all parts). The fate of interchangable parts in a declining mechanical age is uncertain. A very sobering thought.

Odin's Raven said...

@RPC. Yes, quite. Holiday is of course derived from holy day. It's noticeable that many atheists are rather evangelical in their determination to spread their gospel as shrilly as any other missionary, and as heavily armoured in smug self-righteousness.The proverbial Martian unaware of the exact content of the competing belief-systems, might find it difficult to distinguish the practitioners on the basis of their actual behaviour and how they live their lives. It would be amusing but not surprising, to find them aping the liturgical and ecclesiastical practices of religions to which they profess indifference.

james albinson said...

As to washing of wollens; use pure soap flakes (eg. Dreft), by hand, gently, spread on a horizontal rack/grid to drip dry, press if necessary with a very cool iron. Air on a rack or with a large hanger. Brush suits and hang in the cupboard with lavender until needed.

Tyler August said...

Depopulate Toronto? The first thing that comes to mind would be a major release from either the Pickering or Darlington reactor complexes. Not exactly an appealing prospect. Fortunately, this does not exactly seem likely, given the safety record of the CANDU type, and the contentiousness and professionalism I have seen in the Canadian nuclear industry.

Thinking on it further, if Canada were to dissolve and (as is fairly widely acknowledged) Ontario is too large and unwieldy to govern-- perhaps the ex-province could enter into Confederation with itself? Canadians are more fond of government than those south of the border, and might very well see it as a positive to re-establish the middle tier, with the old provincial government becoming a new federal one, and new provinces being set up to take its place. Obviously Upper Canada would serve as one province, and by far the most populous and powerful. For the remainder, the easiest arrangement would be a spit into provinces of Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario; the former probably ruled from Greater Sudbury and the latter almost certainly from Thunder Bay. Those divisions already exist and are familiar to most, and so would quickly gain traction over more demographically (northern indigenous territories) or bioregionally (Clay Belt and Ottawa Watershed vs. rocky Precambrian shield) inspired divisions. I could also see Eastern Ontario splitting to form another province with the border near Kingston/Prince Edward County (sorry Thoomas) given the self-identity of the region, in spite of the historical ties with Upper Canada. I have seen even finer divisions proposed for the Upper Canada region (most of which start with splitting off Toronto as a city-province), but that somehow seems less likely.

Jason Heppenstall said...

@ Tidlösa. "The Atheist Assemblies might just pop up one of these days."

They already have! There are almost 200 of them worldwide who congregate every Sunday to proclaim their non-belief in er ... something.

Shane Wilson said...

I think you're missing the point. I"m not sure if you read JMG's post(s) regarding the end of retirement, but those of us Gen X or younger never expect to retire. We're already in JMG's post retirement cohort. The only hope for us to have a decent elderhood, which considering most of the upcoming crises about to wash over us, I'd say is not likely, but if we do make it to the old, old age of, say, 70, our only hope of a good old age is the social credit we've built up in our communities or with our families, that they'll be more than willing to look after us in exchange for teaching wisdom to the kids and helping with the household economy. You miss the point when you say younger generations would curtail all nonessential spending to save for their retirement years--one, most of us don't have any nonessential spending to cut, second, we don't expect to ever be able to retire in the first place, and last, most of us can't ever dream to live as long as today's Silents and Boomers once all the various crises wash over our society and take down life expectancy with them. Regarding dignity, who can deny that, but I do want to know where the bizarre idea that elders should be independent came from, other than the general obsession of independence in the US? It never was and is not now the case in many cultures that elders beyond their working years should be independent to the extent of living by themselves in a single family home. I think this bizarre belief that elder independence is an unmitigated good, and that depending on others is a torturous horror to be avoided at all costs, is something long overdue to be chucked into the compost bin. This belief has probably gone a long way in creating today's elders, who are perfectly content to cannibalize their children and grandchildren's future all so they can have some independent ideal that is downright bizarre (not to mention unsustainable) from a historical perspective.
Back to religion, or the lack thereof
I'm not sure I even believe in the existence of Atheists. Show me an Atheist, and I'll show you the gods he/she worships...
On the other hand, I'm hopeful that the future Lakeland Republic has been no more kinder to those who believe in the sky God of the afterlife as it is to the angry Atheists, where the Earth is just a dead or even evil place that one has to just plod through to make it to the glorious afterlife that awaits the True Believers. Maybe we'll get to go to a Christian service to see just how much it has changed from today's version as the Atheist Assembly? I'm hopeful that Lakeland will show promising first steps toward the new religious sensibility that JMG discussed in posts on here awhile back. :)

Charly Chan said...

Mr Greer, I'm no trying to deny the existence of atheists who believe "in the idea of the non-existence of God." Internet is full of them tirelessly fighting endless battles with the believers.
But I doubt they are the majority, despite your particular experience. Note that if there were 50% of believers atheists and 50% of non-believers. As a famous member of a small religion you will receive a lot of attacks of the first group, and essentially no news from the latter.
I understand that my experience is quite specific (I have friends believers and nonbelievers, and the vast majority of the discussions we had about God had been started by faithful friends who want to take us to the right way).

Shane Wilson said...

Regarding old age "independence", I'm not sure that that's a euphemism for control & power. Many households are reverting back to the multigenerational arrangements that were the norm for centuries, but the difference today is that the clout, wealth, and power lies with the old person instead of the working age person. They're the ones letting the poor, down and out and down on their luck young 'uns back into THEIR house, and it hasn't escaped notice of the younger generation who controls the purse strings and who has the clout. So, really, rather than independence, the issue is wealth and control. Since we're already back to multigenerational housing, the question then becomes, who should control the pursestrings from a societal perspective? What social arrangement is optimal for society? Is having all the wealth (and the power and control that comes with that) tied up with the elderly via pensions, investments, and entitlements optimal for society? Or is it best to value work and working and have wealth flow towards those able bodied people who can still work for income? Should unemployed kids and grandkids have to come cap in hand to their parents & grandparents, or should it be the other way around? Keep in mind that we're well past the limits to growth now, and that the pie is shrinking, so ones profit is another's loss.

Matt and Jess said...

I got a more ominous feeling from the atheist assembly ... The intern just happened to be an enthusiast? Could be repressed feelings coming to the surface ;)

Nastarana said...

Shane Wilson, elders living on their own has a pretty long history in Western folklore; the little woman who lived under the hill, etc., so I doubt this is quite as new an idea as you might imagine. My parents, may God rest their souls, enjoyed a very comfortable retirement; I didn't resent it or them, even though my own circumstances were sometimes desperate, I thought they had earned it. And I would not have dreamed of descending on them for free room and board. I am afraid I have scant respect for able bodied adults who think they should not have to pick up after themselves.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Dear Shane et al:
Well as to religious belief there's always Russian Orthodoxy, which is unworldly, esoteric and very musical to boot, as well as being ethical in the highest sense! Look how many souls died for their faith during the Communist persecutions. They must have died for some ideal that was beyond and above them. There is a small congregation of the Eastern Orthodox Christian community in Lakeland, possibly composed largely of children of emigrees.

Jim of Olym

Jim R said...

Around my suburban neighborhood (the kind Kunstler just hates), one of the more interesting uses of electric power is to run the lift pumps.

Back when the place was more sane, say in 1940, the population center of the city was down in the flat area around the river, and when they got around to building sanitary sewers, gravity did the work of moving the stuff from people's homes down to the plant by the river. The old power plant was by the river, too.

In this neck of the woods, the few people who lived out here got by with a simple dunny, or by the mid 20th century, septic tanks (with all that entails)...

Well, now, all the hip-and-trendy folks (such as myself) don't want to live in the dirty, crowded, high-crime downtown area, we want to have a "hill country view" ... which means hills. And of course, the city found it inconvenient to bury pipes along the meandering courses of natural waterways.

Driving around the neighborhood, I have noticed that the lift stations all have heavy-duty diesel generators in the enclosure. They were always there, it's just that I thought about them today. Apparently it takes quite a bit of energy to lift the water output from 500 or a 1000 houses. I wonder how many day's supply of diesel they have, if the grid goes down?

By the way, I notice that your narrator has encountered an old-fashioned phone. I was curious to know whether the Lakelanders are connecting them with an old-fashioned building full of clattering Strowger stepping switches, or a somewhat more modern 1-A analog switch? Any old "candlestick" style phones in the republic?

Jo said...

@ Eagle Eye: Thanks for that recommendation. Funnily enough I stumbled across Tasmanian Times just a few days ago, in a search for alternative Tassie voices. I will certainly follow the rabbit trail through the articles there..

I am in Launceston.. hope you are not getting blown right off the island altogether this week in the spring gales up there in the NW..

Martin B said...

I want to put in a good word for Just In Time manufacturing, which has been unfairly maligned IMO.

Back in the 1960s, British Leyland manufactured the Mini here in Cape Town, and we visited the factory as part of our engineering course. This was long before JIT was developed.

For some reason the guy who machined cylinder heads stuck in my mind. He would take a cast blank, put it on his machine, things would whirr and move, cutting oil would spurt, and soon a cylinder head with bright and shiny machined surfaces would emerge. He then lifted the completed cylinder head off his machine and put it on a pallet behind him. There must have been close on a hundred machined cylinder heads on a couple of pallets waiting behind him to be mated with the engine block.

You might think this is a good thing. It breeds resilience. If his machine packs up or he's off sick, the factory can continue with what he's already machined.

But consider this: what if his machine is out of alignment and all hundred cylinder heads are defective? That means a hundred rework jobs. Far better to make one, use it, and if there's something wrong with it, fix the problem immediately to stop more defective parts being made. Minimize rework (and rework is wasted work).

Also, those hundred cylinder heads cost working capital to produce. Reducing work in progress can release substantial amounts of capital, plus save the interest expense to finance it. And of course it has to be stored somewhere. Reducing work in progress and inventory reduces the need for floor space, which reduces rent, lighting, maintenance, cleaning, etc etc.

Outside the Mini factory were hundreds and hundreds of Minis parked awaiting transport to the dealers. The problem is, they were parked next to a railway line in the hot African sun. The iron dust from the rails was settling on the paintwork, giving it a rusty patina, and the sun was perishing the rubber and plastic components. Apparently the dealers had to spend hundreds of Rands buffing and polishing and replacing parts to get the cars into salable condition, and the factory lost money on every Mini made.

Ideally with JIT, when you place your order, factories produce the one thing you have ordered, then stop until the next order arrives. Of course there are such things as economies of scale to consider, and a certain amount of safety stock is needed, but that's the ideal.

Lynnet said...

More on the subject of retirement: In previous centuries, with large families and shorter lifespans, it worked for the elderly to be supported in their children's household. The elders would die at home, unencumbered by the fantastic expense of modern medicine. Now, in overdeveloped countries, many people do not marry, many of the married have no children, and those that have children generally have fewer of them. The demographics just don't work. In addition, the $100k+ spent in the last year of life to stave off death is totally unsustainable.

Instead of younger people saving every cent to support their parents and themselves, I think you'll see many couples having enough children to insure that they personally will be taken care of. One of the key controls to population growth is pensions.

Price controls on medical care won't work, IMHO. Price controls on gasoline in 1972 led to lines of idling cars stretching for blocks, trying to fill up their tanks. If high-tech medical care was really cheap, it would increase usage, not reduce it. And someone (us) would be paying for it somehow. Rationing by price, our current approach, doesn't work very well either. Rationing by restriction on procedures or pharmaceuticals would be a difficult trick to pull off in today's society. Pessimistically, I think we'll see rationing by price shift into high gear before long, where the elite get all the high-tech medical care they can dream of, and the rest of the society goes back to grandma dying quietly in the parlor, and children and young adults dying of infections and communicable diseases.

RPC said...

Nastarana wrote, "About Social Security and pensions. What these are is deferred wages." This is true of pensions, but not of U.S. Social Security, which is a wealth transfer system. Note that Social Security began paying recipients as soon as it was created; these recipients had never paid into the system. So, while your wages over time determine your Social Security payments, those payments do not come from your own wages, but from those of current workers. There is also the dismal prospect of all those who, having paid into the system to support the current crop of elders, will be left in the lurch when the system ceases paying out.

RPC said...

Regarding atheist assemblies: Philadelphia has at least two Philosophical Societies, one at each end of downtown. The physical facilities of each consist of an auditorium, a large room with kitchen facilities attached, and a number of supporting offices and other spaces. I believe the Philosophical Society on Rittenhouse Square (the organization, not the building) predates the United States.

Stacy said...

@Nastarana: ". . . not only would seniors have no money to spend, but younger generations would curtail all nonessential spending to save for their own retirement years. Older workers would cling to their jobs by any means, fair or foul, they could." This is currently happening in my family. My mother worked into her sixties until an injury forced her out of her job and my father "retired" unwillingly at 74 for the second time. After a brief period off, he's working again part-time. He says that he's working because "people who retire just die sooner", but in his case I think that belief correlates strongly with necessity. Both of my parents get Social Security. At the other end of the spectrum, my 23-year-old wishes he could be more familiar with the concept of nonessential spending. For him, a good month is when he can buy more fresh fruit and vegetables, and fresh (as opposed to frozen or canned) protein. Yes, we feed him when he visits us. My parents have an open invitation to come and live with us, but they have returned to their hometown to take care of my grandmother, now quite elderly and ill. They live almost 2000 miles away. This situation is not atypical in the United States. Like Mr. Heppenstall, my husband and I do not expect to retire.

Stacy said...

Ooops. I was referring to Mr. Wilson's post, not Mr Heppenstall's. Sorry!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thanks, Tyler. Your suggestions seem realistic. I had not thought before of a confederation of provinces carved out of the former Ontario, but this indeed now seems to me to be the way to proceed. The envisaged arrangement has the advantage of perturbing our present set-up only moderately (in a situation which will in any case see us confronted with wrenching, traumatic change, notably in the former USA).

In particular, it does now seem to me that Kingston has a future as a major centre in a province distinct from the province that embeds Toronto. Kingston has a strong cultural tradition, going back to before the days of Sir John A. MacDonald, and is nowadays noted as the seat of a high-profile university.

One might perhaps go so far as to see Ottawa become the capital of the Ontario confederation. Ottawa, with all those fancy-schmancy buildings, does have to be used for something as the problematic future unfolds.

It might additionally prove possible to form some kind of loose cultural and customs union, beyond Ontario - a sort of "Communauté canadienne" in the spirit of the 1960s European Common Market, to save what can be saved from the present ocean-to-ocean Canadian confederation. The Communauté might help coordinate radio network broadcasting, Halifax-to-Vancouver passenger rail, and the like.

I would imagine the Communauté additionally doing what it can to coordinate the foreign policies of its members, in the face of potentially dangerous diplomatic developments from the former USA. Much can be done in diplomacy without formal treaties, but with a quiet understanding that when things get bad, all participating Foreign Ministries are to consult mutually, in a "communautaire" spirit. Such an approach would help in the event of. e.g., difficult trade talks with the Atlantic Republic.


Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

James Albinson (writing under a name styled on this blog in an e.e. cummings spirit, as "james albinson"): Very interesting. The harmonization of standards is a key task, and metrology an interesting subject. If civilization collapses, people must strive to preserve the legacy of the Bureau des poids et mésures (BIPM) in Paris.

It is a mild consolation here that of the seven or so fundamental SI-system (physics-lab) units, only (I think) the kilogram is now tied to an actual physical entity (the odious "standard kilogram", sitting in a jurisdiction not noted for its political stability). The metrologists are now on the verge of constructing a reproducible standard for the kilogram itself - something to do with assembling Avogadro's Number of some atoms of some appropriate isotope, or something along these lines - rather as they a few decades ago got a reproducible standard to replace the odious Parisian platinum-iridium(?) "standard metre" rod.

Chronometry, it might be worth adding, is now handled by BIPM's pooling the output of various atomic clocks around the world, I think at least one of them residing in Ottawa. The clocks diverge over periods of months on at least the nanosecond or microsecond scale, in their various ever-so-stable vaults, and BIPM takes something like an average. It is on the strength of this something-like-an-average that BIPM takes one key decision, every few years - the decision, namely, to insert a leap second into the year, so as to keep Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) at a conveniently small offset from the seconds counted off on the underlying atomic time scale. This aspect of metrology, including its prospects in civilizational collapse, I discuss, to a length of three or so paragraphs, in Chapter 2 of "Utopia 2184" (at www(dot)metascientia(dot)com).


Tom (at UTC=20151026T205747Z approx)

PS: The following cruel joke is said to circulate among military professionals: How many French generals does it take to defend Paris? Answer: Number unknown, since this operation has never been attempted.

Caryn said...

@ Shane Wilson:

I fully agree with you on elder care and living in the home with family. I think it's crazy, sad and frankly enraging that it has been drilled into our heads that it's best to live alone in our 'independence', rather than with family. That we are somehow failing miserably if we have to cohabit.

And yes, it is becoming ( and I suspect will become more so and more so) unsustainable for most of us as the fractal collapse gains traction.

After living in Asia for the past 16 years, we've kind of adopted the traditional Chinese attitudes on family cohabitation. At 54, my dearest dream for my elder years is that I will be lucky enough to live with one of my kids, as the Amah, (father's mother) raising my grand-babies alongside of their parents and continuing to contribute. I can't see myself 'retiring' into uselessness or idleness or endless vacations, as my parents and in-laws did.

Roger Arnold said...

There's an important idea here that I'm chagrinned to say had not occurred to me -- that an adequate labor-friendly economy could result naturally merely from changes in the tax codes to remove the implicit subsidies for capital and instead favor labor and sustainability. I'm not certain that it's true, but it's certainly worth looking at more closely.

Actually "true" or "not true" isn't the way to frame it. It's a question of degree. Any code changes that shift the balance will have positive results; whether they can be sufficient to give full employment in the face of the exponential rise in computing capacity is another question. I've been assuming that we would have to somehow get away from the idea of "working for a living" entirely, and move into a world of humans as a privileged upper class, supported by an underclass of cheerful (because they're programmed so) robot slaves. But I've never liked that vision. I've seen enough of the idle rich, how they entertain themselves, and the games they get into to compete for status an power. That's not a healthy way for humans to live. It brings out the worst in people.

If retrotopia could be made to work naturally, it would be a vastly better solution. But I'm not sure that it can. Machines have advantages in productivity that go way beyond their ability to apply concentrated energy to a task. It's a myth that machines necessarily waste energy and win over manual labor only because they can draw on cheap energy from fossil fuels. Their real advantage is in speed and precision. A 5-axis numerically controlled milling machine is a marvel to behold. It would take really exorbitant taxes on computerized equipment before a room full of machinists with simple milling machines and lathes could compete with that one machine. Never mind what it would take to do the job with just hand tools.

Patricia Mathews said...

@ many of you - I have grown children, one here and one in Florida, and a nephew in Denver. I ran the scenario in my head of telling my kids I was giving up my "selfish ideal of independence" to move in with them and help them out.

All I could hear in this thought experiment was a chorus of howls and groans and "we don't have any ROOM!" "Just stay where you are, Mom! If you can't we'll find you an apartment." They would, in short, see me as battening on them.

BTW, I'm living in a single family home because I bought it when I was working and paid off the mortgage well before the crash. I have two cats dependent on me, and landlord feel about pets the way they do about smokers, unless you're in the War Zone where they don't care about drugs or prostitutes and casual assaults on the tenants either. (This latter from a friend who has a genius for finding the worst landlords and rat holes in Albuquerque. Brrrr... no thanks, if I can help it.)

It's just easier and cheaper not to move! Hugging my vast amount of unused space (~1100 square feet, "a cute little starter home" according to another friend) to myself and chortling "Mine, all mine!" just doesn't seem to fit the scenario. Believe me, every time I hobble down the hallway to put something away, I wish the place were more compact!

However, I do urge you all to get second opinions on the subject.

onething said...


"So, while your wages over time determine your Social Security payments, those payments do not come from your own wages, but from those of current workers. "

I would still consider it as deferred wages. Essentially, I have been "paying it forward" all my life, and my wages were garnished to do so.

About elders living with family, I would be only too happy. What interferes for many if not most Americans, is the mobility of the last 2 generations or so. The parents have a house and it is hundreds or thousands of miles away from their kids. And the kids are not near one another either.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

What about people who have no children, or who outlive their children? Where will they live when they get old, and what will they live on, if they have no pensions or savings, or their savings have been wiped out or confiscated?

In many agricultural societies, a barren woman is pitied or cursed. Depending on the era and the culture, childless widows and old maids in straitened circumstances sometimes get on well enough with a cottage and a cat or perhaps another old lady for company. But if they can't keep themselves and have to move in with their brother's or sister's children, they are useless mouths to feed grudgingly. You can bet the younger women see how that goes and make their life choices accordingly.

Consider yourself in that situation; which of your relatives do you think would take you in? "Old people should move in with their relatives" as a one size fits all prescription is oppressive to women at every stage of life.

Roger Arnold said...

Regarding heat for smelting iron ore and for steel making absent coal: not a problem. Charcoal is fine, if the process is designed around it. One would need to be disciplined about waste heat recovery and use of regenerators, but in the end it's still just carbon chemistry. Cowper stoves for blast furnaces have been around since the mid 1800s.

The bigger problem for iron works is that the ores available are of increasingly low grade. We're actually not that far from the sustainable end point: mining and processing ordinary rock for all the metals it happens to contain -- iron, aluminum, magnesium, copper, chromium, nickel, etc. Ending up with pure silica, which is itself a very handy material for making.

The process for turning ordinary rock into a wide array of useful materials would be quite complex, with a myriad of sub-processes for separating and concentrating particles of constituent minerals and processing each appropriately. It would be energy intensive, but not nearly as much so as one might assume on the basis of total complexity. After initial crushing, the sizing and sorting of particles can be done using processes that are surprisingly efficient. But it's far from "low tech", and it's hard to imagine it surviving through an era of serious social collapse and die-off.

But then again, you never know.

patriciaormsby said...

The richer families show more cohesiveness, and having many rooms they can all retreat to probably helps. The nuclear family has been a phenomenon of the working classes, encouraging mobility and destroying ties to home towns with glossy images of our exciting future we strive for in the "final frontier," and the goal of abandoning our mother planet. Good luck bringing them back together, too. "Divide and conquer" has never been so widely employed. The important thing will be communities of the aware, to whatever degree we are able to form them. I hope your children will be among those seeing the value of that. The Arch Druid Report and comment section should be a good forum for spreading pride in multi-generational households that are showing the good sense of coming together in hard times.

As for me? I eschewed children, given the degree of overcrowding on our planet and the necessary competition for mere survival that awaits us. I pray someone else's children will thrive on account of my choice. My ultimate hope is to serve a cohesive community in whatever capacity I can. When that is no longer possible, I shall retire.

My husband, however, thwarts each community I start building. He's an idealist and does not tolerate the normal range of human behaviors. He believes technology will come to our rescue, so he cannot see why a community is so important. OTOH, he is a great designer, carpenter, metal worker and farmer, so my challenge will be interacting with whatever community I can scrape together while shielding him from all of their various vices, acting only on the dangerous ones.

Dennis D said...

One thing that I have observed as a Canadian reading US blogs, is that the medical system in your country has had exemptions passed to laws that cover any other industry. As a example, try to get a binding estimate on a surgery in most hospitals, they will refuse. This has been a requirement in the auto repair industry for years.The exceptions ( that most procedures can be had for the amount of a typical co-pay, indicating that the person is actually the victim of a protection racket, where they pay the real cost out of pocket, and the "insurance" is just bankruptcy protection, much as the mafia charged for "fire insurance" so they wouldn't burn your place down. Reasonable estimates show that the price of medical care should be about 5-10% of GDP, not the 19-20% currently. The drug companies are equally to blame, where, with anything else, once you buy something, you own it. Drugs are only allowed to be possessed by the person who buys it first, with a permission slip. you can not resell it (legally)under any conditions (do you really own it then?)

Martin B said...

@ Tom. Your French general joke reminds me of the Mussolini tank: two forward gears and five reverse.

Regarding elders at home: My grandfather came to live with us in his late 70s, when I was still a child, but he became increasingly senile, as we called it then. We had a domestic servant who cared for him, but his erratic behavior became too much for her, and my dad had to put him in a home.

Also, when I was a child we had family friends with a daughter who was "funny" as we kids termed it. (Funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha.) She might have been a Down Syndrome child. They wanted her to have as normal a life as possible and she joined in all our games, but didn't understand them and got frustrated and ended up crying, and we kids got blasted for being cruel to her. After puberty she became sex-obsessed and AFAIK they put her in a home, not being able to control her.

nuku said...

@ Martin B
Re Just In Time: "factories produce the one thing you have ordered, then stop until the next order arrives."

What happens to the workers when the factory stops? Do they just go home and wait for a call up? Do they get paid while waiting? Or are you imagining a completely automated factory with no human workers?

latefall said...

Re Angry Atheists
My impression is that a lot of misunderstandings in the wider field can be avoided by acknowledging the respective context. Perhaps this may help doing so: "Of the global atheist and nonreligious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%)."
It is perhaps not surprising that the voices you get will not be universally calm, irrespective of their source and their addressee. This is perhaps very important in the context of JMG. Also think about pairs such as North Africa and France for example. As for atheist assemblies and the like:
Re Generational conflict
I find the practice of binning people (strictly) by birthyear only very moderately helpful. Of course one can argue for this on the basis of certain Zeitgeists. But this would break down pretty quickly of you are talking about a less cohesive group (geographic, economic, etc.). To me it speaks of an at best weird mental model of societies.
Of course one can always assume the North American default, but even then I think the usefulness of these concepts is limited, inapprotiate for the depth of the conversation usually happening here.

Jill Grow said...

This doesn't especially pertain to the current topic, so it might be most appropriate to delete it without posting. However, I was wondering if you could point to some resources on the problems/issues with nuclear energy, particularly with reprocessing the spent fuel to recover more energy and reduce the half-life of the waste products (I just happened to read a bit about it on an obviously pro-nuclear site). This is entirely for more own information, because the way they taught about nuclear energy in school tends to give the impression that it's a great alternative energy source, if everyone would just follow the best safety protocols (i.e., assume perfection!).

latheChuck said...

Roger Arnold-

A five-axis milling machine is indeed a wonder to see in action, but how badly do we need the items that require its use? Modern CAD software enables designs with complex curved enclosures and similar complexity of manufacture, but there are easier ways to meet functional needs. Complex compound surfaces of ABS plastic signify "modern design" in 2015, but might signify "no repair possible" in 2065.

While it's certainly convenient to have an electric servomotor for each axis of a lathe or mill, my little 9"x20" bench-top lathe has a motor only for the spindle, and I have a hand-crank assembly that I have used for turning when the power was out. (I was actually fabricating a hand-cranked generator lamp after a hurricane had already struck.) Whole shops could be driven by a single steam engine (or waterwheel, windmill, or even treadmill) through a complex of shafts and belts arranged in the ceiling of the shop, without loss of accuracy in the work.

John Roth said...


Re your response to Martin B.'s comment on Just in Time manufacturing. People get confused about it. A lot of people think it's a thing in itself, while it's actually part of Lean Manufacturing, which has a lot of other pieces. You can't apply it, for example, before you've got all the variation squeezed out of the process. That presumes there is a process, which presumes that you're manufacturing enough units to make a process worth while.

You've also got the difference between mass production and bespoke production, and that's not as simple as one would think. An auto assembly plant, for example, works because it churns out thousands of cars a day, of several models and with a wide variety of "factory installed" options. I understand the auto industry would like nothing better than being able to get an order for a car with a specific set of options one day and have it roll off the line the next day, ready to ship to the customer. Right now, they can manage about a week, partly because they can't always line up the parts in their amazingly complex scheduling.

To get to the completely ridiculous other end, I have trouble imagining the assembly line that would put out, for example, aircraft carriers.

Non-mass production is similar. A number of years ago I saw an article on how G.E. builds jet engines. It's all manual labor. There isn't an assembly line. There's a crew of highly skilled mechanics who are working strictly to plan that put the engine together piece by piece. Partly that's because the mechanics in the field have to do exactly the same thing: there is nothing to be gained by attempting to automate it, and partly it's because there aren't enough of one part to make it worth setting up a mass production assembly line.

If you're working in a shop that does lots of special orders, you're either going to have a lot of manual labor, or the people doing the ordering are going to have to submit the plans in form for the automated tools.

The streetcar plant we saw was almost certainly doing Henry Ford assembly: you can have any color as long as it's black. Doing something special for each customer takes way too much administration.

Jill Grow said...

Re: multigenerational households... I would be fine having either my mother or my mother-in-law (or both) come live with us and help out (though my husband would take some convincing). My mother is a worrier and has always had some kind of fear of going bankrupt and being thrown out on the street, but my siblings and I have told her that she would just come live with one of us (just as we would go live with her - or with almost anyone in our extended family - if the situation were reversed). I have lived with various relatives at various times without thinking much of it... Is it so unusual to feel at home with all of one's family?

Varun Bhaskar said...

@Martin B

You are aware that every well run factory has extensive quality control for it's parts, right? Every x number of parts produced gets tested, and if problems are found then the area of production is retooled. The factory you were talking about didn't sound very well run if they were just leaving their products out in the sun, next to the rail roads.

Tyler August said...

You say you "would not have dreamed of descending on them for free room and board", with reference to your parents. Have you been homeless, rather than 'descend upon' your family? Would you still not dream of it, that first night on a park bench in the snow? Because that is the choice some people are facing.


The regions would probably be more happy with federal power staying in Ottawa, too. Not just for the sense of continuity, but to avoid a concentration of all economic and political power in the GTA. Your "Communauté canadienne" seems like a very sensible idea as well. I can certainly see an Ontario Federal government sited in Ottawa trying to spearhead such a thing, but I could also see it petering out the way the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States did, depending on how amicable our divorce was.

Shane Wilson said...

your post, among others made me think of something us "collapse aware" might consider, a family emergency plan for the kinds of things we anticipate happening in the next however many years, kinda like a disaster plan for a single home. If all the working age members of a family are unemployed, as could be likely in a Depression, and if entitlements/benefits and pension payments stop or become erratic, where would the family gather? If you wanted to gather all your far flung family together in a situation like that just described, where would you? Who's home's best set up to support everyone? I think it's well worth thinking about and discussing with those who are inclined enough to seriously consider such an idea.

jonathan said...

my atheism is one of utter indifference. god or no god there is nothing i would do differently. do unto others as you would have them do unto you is valid advice without concerning oneself about a hereafter that may or may not exist. do the right thing because it's right, not because you'll get a cookie after you die. sure, aggressive atheists are annoying. so are aggressive evangelicals, vegans and panhandlers. i sometimes get the impression that some people who profess a belief in god are indulging in pascal's wager. unfortunately, that's a losing bet no matter how you spin the wheel.

Josh said...

JMG, there are a pair of recent articles about internet technology at Low Tech Mag ( that you might be interested in. ("Why We Need a Speed Limit for the Internet," and, "How to Build a Low Tech Internet.") The second piece discusses low tech options that could persist even if the global www goes down. Maybe some parts of Lakeland Republic could have an internet of sorts updated by wifi broadcast periodically from passing public transport vehicles, or hard drive deliveries by train?

nuku said...

@John Roth
Re Just in Time and Lean Manufacturing: I was being a bit lazy in my comment to Martin B, so thanks for expanding the context.
Yes, I'm well aware that JIT mainly applies to a fairly mature mass production factory situation where you have sub-assembly parts coming in from outside the main assembly factory. These sub-assemblies are ordered so that they arrive just in time to be slotted into a particular run of product.
This kind of JIT does not apply to one-off/limited production runs in small shops where most of the product is made "in house," since in that case pretty much everything is made JIT anyway as part of the manufacturing process itself.
JIT is also used by many large companies which supply spare parts for their products, to avoid having to hold a large inventory of thouseands of different spares (inventory capital tied up + insurance + a storage space, ect).
Other companies just don't provide spares at all; so when even the simplest part of a product breaks, the "consumer" just has to bin the whole thing and buy a new unit.
When judiciously used AND working smoothly, JIT can help make the manufacturing process "leaner and meaner", but when it involves long/complex supply lines from say China or Germany to say, New Zealand, there is the possibility of disruption due to all sorts of external factors such as political instability, weather, volcanic dust clouds killing jet engines, unforseen currency exchange movements, to name a few.

Clarence said...

I think that the paradigm represented as 'social security' has much different meaning in the fictional world of the Atlantic Republic and Lakeland Republic. Mandatory participation in the former and voluntary in the latter. The elucidation (so far) of the tax structure in the LLR shows a marked difference in philosophy and practice from today's. An interesting read so far and an excellent continuation of the themes of the ADR.


Shane Wilson said...

interesting that you position your atheism in opposition to Christianity, or perhaps Islam, mentioning the "hereafter" and "getting a cookie after you die". There are actually many religious beliefs that do not concern themselves with the hereafter, nor promise a "cookie" after you die. The fact that you automatically oppose your atheism to the religion of the sky God of the Middle East says something...

latheChuck said...

John Roth- One of the differences between the US and Russian manned space programs could be described this way: the US built a very small number of reusable spacecraft (Shuttle), while the Russians built a small number of re-usable factories for building disposable spacecraft. The Russians could build "one more spacecraft" as often as necessary, while the US would have had to rebuild the factory just to build one more spacecraft. (By "factory", of course, I mean the whole supply chain (including individual careers), which had probably been abandoned when the last of the US fleet was completed, but which was maintained in Russia.)

From my own hobbyist metalworking experience, I know that I can spend an hour setting up my machinery just to spend a minute to drill one hole in exactly the right place, or to mill just the right surface. If I needed ten, or a hundred, pieces, I might take five minutes to swap and machine each one, so the average labor cost would be much less (though the total cost would be more). But I usually only need one piece!

latheChuck said...

jonathan- Expressed religious belief can be just as much about the individual's relationship with his community as the individual's relationship with God. What one person proclaims as "God's Law" can just as well be regarded as norms of the community which have been anonymized and stabilized by attributing them to the ancient words of a supernatural being.

There is statistical evidence that people who describe themselves as members of a faith community have better life outcomes than those who do not (see Wikipedia: "Happiness/Religion and Happiness"). An objective observation is not invalidated by disputes over the mechanism by which it is produced. I've read that there's a dramatic moment in the theatrical production "Book of Mormon", in which a character says "If Mormons have happy families in cohesive communities, does it matter if the dogma is absurd?"

Is there a label which one can adopt which denotes "I believe that stable, cohesive communities of kindness toward one's neighbors and family are worth devoting my personal resources to support" other than the traditionally religious? People of faith may not always (or even "often") live up to their ideals, but at least they have shared ideals. When an individual seeks to "do good" for a person in need, social complications result from the exposure of inequality, and expectations or obligations for reciprocity. When a church can broker charity, it creates a useful isolation between those with resources to share, and those in need which allows charity to be accepted for the good of the community. Such a charitable organization can develop institutional awareness to distinguish "the deserving poor" from the opportunists, and can redirect those in need to specialized support (e.g., substance-abuse treatment, other medical care, subsidized housing, etc.).

In short, irrational believers can produce positive social outcomes. (This is not to say that similar social outcomes are not the result of reasoned political processes. That's why I get such a nice, warm feeling when I review the taxes taken out of my paycheck. You, too? )

Maybe this thread belongs in The Other Blog.

Martin B said...

If there are no orders for their product, the workers do something else, like clean the factory, paint, work in the garden, undergo training, snooze, whatever.

One thing they don't do is produce goods for which there is no market.

But as I pointed out, "make one thing then stop" was a theoretical ideal. In actual practice, compromises are made, goods are produced to forecasts rather than actual orders, production is batched as much as possible to reduce model changeovers, etc.

The Mini factory I described was an example from the 1960s of what NOT to do. There were many factories like it before Just In Time and statistical process control became commonplace. It went bankrupt after a few years, and no wonder.

Patricia Mathews said...

OT: except that it's by comparison to Retrotopia. Last night I idly picked up ECOTOPIA for a reread, and found my perspective on it had quite changed after reading this blog for so long. To wit: parts of Ecotopia-the-nation were appalling to me in a pure "This belongs in Carr's Atlantic Republic!" sort of way.

The hippie-dippy aspects were more appealing, but then my entire adolescence was spent in what every inhabitant called THE CITY, which is now an appalling mass of wall-to-wall cars and inhuman inequality clear around the Bay.

One question about Retropia, raised by its dismissive absence in Ecotopia, is "what about the old and disabled?" Because an active and healthy lifestyle, while very beneficial, does not protect against age, arthritis, accidents, and other problems that are the way of all flesh. Not only how are they supported economically, a lively question on the comments here, but ... how does an expectation that one walks everywhere jibe with being barely able to walk at all?

Remember those classic movies where, in the background of the heroine's living room, is an old lady in a rocking chair who to our eyes now looks like her grandmother --- and it's her mother? I do. And if the alternative to being young and fit is being chairbound, I have to say it's very unattractive.

Just asking.

Glenn said...

John Roth said...
To get to the completely ridiculous other end, I have trouble imagining the assembly line that would put out, for example, aircraft carriers."

You might consider the rate at which Henry J. Kaiser produced Liberty Ships during WWII. The joke was that his yards could build them faster than the Kriegsmarine could sink them. A Liberty Ship is not a Carrier, but it's a lot closer to it in size and complexity than a Model T is. And this was early '40's tech with a lot of work done by hand.

So yes, it can be done with shipbuilding. For that matter, as far back as the Renaissance, the Armory at Venice could put together a war galley in 2 days from stocked parts.

On the topic of extended families. My father in law's cousin just died. She had been living with them for 10 years. As had my mother in law's mother, until she died 20 years ago. My mother in law's elder sister has been living with them for 5 years. Now, their Social Security has been going into the household budget, but at least in our family this is a working arrangement. For that matter, my nephew and his girlfriend have just moved in with my brother and my sister in law to save for a house. At some point either my in-laws will move in with us, or we will move in with them to take care of them. But then, my mother used to make no-interest loans within the family, as have I. We do our best to live the way immigrant families used to in the U.S.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

August Johnson said...

@Josh - I've seen that article and many others like it about building so-called "low-tech" versions of the Internet. I have to say I don't see this as really "low-tech" but rather "low-budget". After all, the actual technology used in these networks isn't any lower tech than that used in today's "high-tech" internet, just smaller and not capable of as high speeds.

When the Internet gets priced out of most people's reach, these smaller devices will suffer the same fate, the reason they're priced the way they are is because they're used to support the existing Internet. Yes, we'll be able to use scrounged devices to build less fancy internets, but I don't think it's fair to call it "low-tech" when it takes the same multi-million dollar factories and supply lines to produce the parts. Just think what it actually takes to build a "simple" LinkSys router/gateway and then try to imagine doing it under the restrictions JMG has laid out in these posts.

Near the very end they start talking about "data mules" and "sneakernets". Very familiar terms to me, back in the 1970's and the days of sneakernets, we had a saying "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of magnetic tapes." However, they're still using them to support the very same high-tech end uses, email, distributing movies and music files. This requires the same high-tech equipment at the ends as today's Internet does. I don't think you'll find hard drives or computers in the Lakeland Republic.

Remember, that even back pre-1920, Radio Amateurs had a functioning network that was passing traffic coast to coast in the US, with only the "infrastructure" of individual amateur's personal homebuilt radios. Even by 1930's standards these were considered primitive but they worked. We don't need all that high-tech WiFi equipment to have a low-tech Internet! I wish more people would see the utility of Ham Radio!

I know this example is at the extreme "primitive" end of radio technology, but I want to use it to demonstrate true low-tech electronic distance communications.

Wireless Telegraphy and High Frequency Electricity (1909)
From Google Books - How to build your wireless station

jonathan said...

shane- you miss the point. my atheism is not in opposition to anything. it is for standards of conduct that do not require supernatural origins. as for cookies, i beg to differ. buddhism offers the cookie of nirvana. hinduism offers the cookie of reincarnation in a higher caste/status. the role of the afterlife in judaism, islam, christianity and baha'i is plain even if there are distinctions among them. that would seem to cover a minimum of at least 98% of the believers in the world.

nuku said...

Re Ship manufacturing: My dad worked at the California Shipbuilding Corporation (Calship) during WW2. He started as a grunt, hunched over, hammering barnacles off ship bottoms while they were in dry dock (try that 10 hours a day if you want to know what real work is like). His supervisor realized my dad was a bright spark who had got top grades in drafting (by hand of course) and woodworking in high school, so he was promted to the lofting department. There he lofted (scaled up from blueprints) and made full sized wood patterns. The patterns, complete with hundreds of holes where rivets would go, were used to mark out the 1,000's of steel plates that make up a ship. Some were Liberty Ships, one was a hospital ship. So yes, there was LOTS of hand work then. And it was pretty much an "assembly line" process.
Towards the end of the war, my dad got head-hunted by Northrup Aircraft to loft their experimental B-35 Flying Wing Bomber. It was basically just one huge 172ft wing with 4 prop engines facing aft. This was an example of a very limited production run, I think only 3 were actually built. Dad first worked on the 1/3 scale prototype.
End of story: my dad used his lofting/design/woodworking skills in the post war economic boom to start a successful furniture business employing 42 people at its height in the 60's. Thanks Dad for passing those skills to me!

TJ said...

My wife and I live on a small sailboat. No TV, no car, no air conditioning, everything we own floats on the boat. We have solar power, sail for weeks at a time without ever starting our small aux engine or generator, and we can live “off the grid” for weeks at a time. But … without GPS navigation the safety margin of navigating the east coast can, very rapidly, get paper thin. Without access to weather information any trip that takes more than two days is a complete crap-shoot. We have three daughters and nine grand kids who live very far inland. Without Skype and the constant connection provided by family blogs, and cell phones, we would not be “out here” very long.

When (if) the world reverts to 1940s (or sooner) technology, I suspect many current “alternate” lifestyles go away.

Unknown said...

We will soon need to begin planning for a country that can no longer afford our current infrastructure. I don't know about where you live, but I am seeing the infrastructure near me in disrepair and decline. Proper maintenance requires capital we don't have as well as energy and resources we cannot afford. The natural tendency is to try to keep everything operating, but that is likely to lead to tipping points resulting in spiraling decline. We really to need to consider which technologies can realistically be of value to a nation in decline. Think a lower speed Internet that can provide information, simple communication and support for commerce, but is not robust enough for streaming video and on-line gaming by way of example. Or highways that are adequate for a 50 mph speed limit, like an interstate highway reduces to northbound lanes while the south bound lanes have been converted to rail. Or, the end of landlines for cable and telephone eliminated in favor of cheaper and easier to maintain cellular systems. The idea of a lower tier infrastructure doesn't need to be limited to a nominal year, but to what can continue to be used at a reasonable cost.