As the global economy sputters on its final fuel-injections of cheap oil, the planet earth will become a larger and wider world again. What a shock this will be to the disciples of New York Times pundit Tom Friedman, who served up the defining image of Globalism for the chattering class as a religion of permanent cornucopian prosperity. In fact, we are heading back in the opposite direction fast – to extremes of local living that have not been seen in centuries.
The global economy was a product of special circumstances at a special moment in history, namely a century of cheap and abundant fossil fuels and about a half-century of relative peace between the great national powers. The curtain is now rising on a new act, which will begin with the great nations contesting with each other over the diminishing material resources of advanced industrial life, of which fossil fuels are primary. Virtually everything else from quality mineral ores to clean water, is getting scarcer, too, contrary to the propaganda issued by the likes of the oil and gas companies, the chambers of commerce, and their sponsored mouthpieces in government.
For the moment, these issues are simply making the various nation players cranky and distempered. The friction was first expressed in abstract realms such as currency wars and flattening wage differentials. Now the world’s distressed money system is moving to the next stage upon which the very comfort and security of populations will be upset, and governments will fall, and enormous losses will have to be recognized. Among other things, these enormities of debt default and fiscal misconduct will impoverish societies, obviating the global trade in everything from flat-screen TVs to canned sardines.
There is no guarantee, either, that the nation-states as we know them today will continue as presently constituted. Both the USA and China have great potential in decades to come to fragment into smaller autonomous regions. It should be a forgone conclusion that Europe will not be able to federate economically, despite the current exertions to rescue the floundering Club Med countries. History has an aversion to fixed boundaries. In 1912, few commentators would have predicted the imminent evaporation of the Austro-Hungarian empire, not to mention the fall of the Romanovs and Hohenzollerns.
The trend now in motion is epochal contraction, and the political task for a generation (or more) to come will be the management of contraction in a way that might minimize hardship and suffering. It does not mean the end of trade between different people and places, but the scale will become smaller and smaller as we are compelled to make the best of life in our home places. All the smart phones ever fabricated will not avail to alter this momentous change of direction in human destiny, the absolutely necessary “time out” from a progress toward eco-suicide.