23 Nov 2005
Avoid Like the Plague
This isn’t really a book review, more a brief slating of a book I just ordered thinking it would be useful but actually somehow sums up a particular school of thought I strongly take issue with. **’Wake Up! Survive and Prosper in the Coming Economic Turmoil’** by Jim Mellon and Al Chalabi.
Starts off promisingly enough, funky cover, identifies problems like peak oil, growth of the Chinese economy, resource scarcity and so on quite well, and then looks at the fragile state of the world economy. All well and good. But what do we do about it?
What response should we offer to our billions of fellow inhabitants of this planet? Should we work to develop community strategies for moving beyond oil? Should we see this as a positive opportunity to build a more localised economy and to roll out microrenewables? No they say. We should work out how to invest our own money in such a way as to be more stable while the world collapses around us. They tell you which currencies to invest in, and that gold, silver and diamonds are always a safe bet in uncertain times. They refer to those of us promoting a more localised approach as “Dark Age Economists”, and seem not to notice the inconsistency between arguing that oil peak is imminent, and saying “Why do we in the Rich World continue to subsidise rich farmers when farming is one of the few areas in which the developing world has a comparative advantage?”. So, one of the best ways apparently to prepare for what they predict as “a full-scale recession, even depression” is to out source all our agriculture to the developing world. Good move.
Having painted grim scenarios of 1930s style depressions and economic turmoil, they conclude the book with the following paragraph, the opening of which I have to say, after what I had read to that point, had me laughing out loud;
>”as readers will know by now, we are not alarmist and advocating a back woodsman style of life – but we do think that as part of financial survival you should start accumulating essential commodities now, in advance of what might happen in certain circumstances”,
and proceed to recommend stockpiling toothbrushes and scissors (among other things). They also recommend that you keep six months worth of cash in the house “or in another safe place” and that you should keep some gold coins (where would you even get gold coins?) in order to secure a seat on the last bus/train/plane out of town when cash, for some reason, just won’t be enough. Doesn’t say when things have got that bad where you might actually want to go that would be any better…
This book is about the selfish response to peak oil. Me, me, me. Not a word about helping your neighbours or lifting a finger to do anything to reduce the possibility of crisis. Not a word about how out current lifestyles created the problem in the first place. I think this approach is odious. Good luck to them I say, barricaded in their houses with their gold coins and bank notes, working their way through their 4 years supply of baked beans, I want no part of that vision of the future, this is not a challenge where selfishness is an option. You could always buy 1000 copies of this book and keep it as emergency toilet roll for when you are barricaded in your house with your spaghetti loops….