Picture Templeton the rat from Charlotte’s Web complete with the voice of Paul Lynde. That’s me. Irritating? Yes. Charming? Nooooo. Quite the opposite. Smart? Not so much. Industrious? Bone lazy. Impulse control? Zero. Like Templeton I’m amoral and omnivorous. But we have our niche. Put me in a conference room full of adults with official positions and I’m a complete train wreck. But the more dysfunctional and wasteful the larger culture the more bountiful the late night rodent buffet.
I travel around the country meeting with people who are passionate about the places they call home. They love their towns, but know things could be improved. They call in experts to identify the nature of the problems and possible solutions. But change is incredibly difficult. All the interlocking parts of the existing system push back. The change that is possible is small and profoundly compromised by existing procedures, vested interests, and political boundaries. Being anything other than a relentlessly optimistic cheerleader is bad form. So tiny victories are celebrated while the larger machine bulldozes on.
Societies are good at maintaining the status quo by drawing down resources from alternative areas. On the surface things look fairly normal, but eventually the entire system becomes so leveraged and brittle in a dozen different interdependent ways that it’s vulnerable to relatively small external shocks. We’re currently facing a series of predicaments that very few people are interested in acknowledging. Predicaments don’t have solutions. Instead, they must be endured and painstakingly worked through over time. That’s not a message that can be sold at a city council meeting.
We’re in another huge economic bubble. Bubbles tend to pop. The people who did the worst in the 2008 financial crisis were those who held too much debt, had the most disposable jobs, and lived in the most vulnerable locations. We’re going to see more of that in the future. That’s not a story people want to hear.
There’s also a big war brewing in the world. Sooner or later the Middle East is going to explode and take a big chunk of the world’s oil supply off line. The resulting shortages will ripple out like waves jacking up prices and disrupting all the attenuated supply chains. That will translate to inflation, unemployment, and political mischief all around. Again, some people will be hit much harder than others. What exactly will the folks at the county level do in response? At the moment they have no ability to do… anything.
That takes me back to Templeton the rat. When things begin to unravel there are going to be all sorts of opportunities for anyone who has no debt and cash on hand. The trick will be to stay out of the way of angry mobs and desperate bureaucracies attempting to hold things together with a mallet and duct tape.