The Long Emergency
Remarks in Hudson, NY
James Howard Kunstler
....We are going to have to reorganize everyday commerce in this nation from the ground up. The whole system of continental-scale big box discount and chain store shopping is headed for extinction, and sooner than you might think. It will go down fast and hard. Americans will be astonished when it happens.
Operations like WalMart have enjoyed economies of scale that were attained because of very special and anomalous historical circumstances: a half century of relative peace between great powers. And cheap oil - absolutely reliable supplies of it, since the OPEC disruptions of the 1970s.
WalMart and its imitators will not survive the oil market disruptions to come. Not even for a little while. WalMart will not survive when its merchandise supply chains to Asia are interrupted by military contests over oil or internal conflict in the nations that have been supplying us with ultra-cheap manufactured goods. WalMart's "warehouse on wheels" will not be able to operate in a non-cheap oil economy
It will only take mild-to-moderate disruptions in the supply and price of gas to put WalMart and all operations like it out of business. And it will happen. As that occurs, America will have to make other arrangements for the distribution and sale of ordinary products.
It will have to be reorganized at the regional and the local scale. It will have to be based on moving merchandise shorter distances at multiple increments and probably by multiple modes of transport. It is almost certain to result in higher costs for the things we buy, and fewer choices of things. We are not going to rebuild the cheap oil manufacturing facilities of the 20th century.
We will have to recreate the lost infrastructures of local and regional commerce, and it will have to be multi-layered. These were the people that WalMart systematically put out of business over the last thirty years. The wholesalers, the jobbers, the small-retailers. They were economic participants in their communities; they made decisions that had to take the needs of their communities into account. they were employers who employed their neighbors. They were a substantial part of the middle-class of every community in America and all of them together played civic roles in our communities as the caretakers of institutions - the people who sat on the library boards, and the hospital boards, and bought the balls and bats and uniforms for the little league teams.
We got rid of them in order to save nine bucks on a hair dryer. We threw away uncountable millions of dollars worth of civic amenity in order to shop at the Big Box discount stores. That was some bargain.
This will all change. The future is telling us to prepare to do business locally again. It will not be a hyper-turbo-consumer economy. That will be over with. But we will still make things, and buy and sell things.....