Ben McGrath had a long piece called "The Dystopians" in the soon-to-come-off-newstands January 26 issue of the New Yorker, which is hidden behind a subcription firewall. Since you probably didn’t read all ten pages of it, I’ll share my favorite passage:
The Malthusian movement has expanded with time into a kind of
peaknik diaspora. Peak oil and peak carbon (i.e., global warming) are the heavies, with the most obviously compelling
claims on our attention, and the greatest number of advocates; their relative standings swing in rough accordance with the
price of gas and the latest hurricane news.
Smaller contenders like peak ßøsh and
peak dirt have their devotees as well, and
are in some ways more pleasing to contemplate, because they are based on the
idea that the path to destruction begins
not in the Earth’s atmosphere or crust
but at the surface, with salmon and topsoil mites. The bailouts in the wake of
the subprime defaults, however, have
arguably thrust a new concern to the
front: peak dollars, or the point at which
the system breaks down through the simple printing of paper money. (A corollary, peak debt, was coined in 2006 by
a former Cisco employee named Jaswant
Jain, who calls himself the Prophet of
Doom and Gloom, and who ßørst observed the deleterious eßøects of unrestrained borrowing as an eight-year-old
in a village near the city of Jodhpur,
where debt-ridden Brahmins appeared worse oßø than solvent untouchables.)
Am I some kind of dystopian? I believe in peak carbon, and I’m becoming a believer in peak debt. I’m very sympathetic to peak fish, and I’m agnostic on peak dirt: I haven’t really looked into it. I generally avoid the peak-oil crowd, not because they make no sense at all but rather because they’re so shrill. And I don’t think much of the peak-dollar lot, including the goldbugs. But I clearly have peaknik tendencies, even though I have no eschatological leanings.
My general attitude towards such things is that they are big drivers of the global economy, but not necessarily forces which will devastate the human race: I enjoy listening to Jim Kunstler, but I don’t follow him all the way to his conclusions.
I also enjoy talking to Nassim Taleb, who’s very much a peak-debt guy: he thinks we’re moving inevitably towards a world with very little debt indeed. And I love McGrath’s parenthetical comment about him:
(Taleb grew up in Lebanon, where an ongoing civil
war had the beneßøcial eßøect of dissuading people from trusting banks.)
One of the interesting things about the implosion of the banking sector as far as the stock market is concerned is that it hasn’t been accompanied by bank runs — the Federal Reserve and the Treasury seem to have successfully persuaded Americans that their money is safe in the bank. In the short term, that’s very good news: the last thing this country needs right now is any kind of broadly-based idea that you can’t trust your local bank with your money. In the longer term, however, mistrust of banks might be a good thing: the global financial system desperately needs less desire for safety and more desire for risk. And I have a feeling it’s going to get more risk whether it likes it or not.