Posted On: Thursday - January 23rd 2020 7:02AM MST
In Topics:   Preppers and Prepping  Economics  The Future  Books
(See this book review intro. and then Part 2.)
Where Peak Stupidity left off in our series of review posts of the 2016 Lionel Shriver book The Mandibles was a discussion of the poor economic situation in near-future (2029) America. For the situation at the beginning of the book, no real explanation is needed, such as that "Stoneage" that is mentioned, but never really explained. Things are deteriorating now, and, unless America starts creating wealth again, and the governments and people stop borrowing to keep up their lifestyles, I don't see why this won't continue.
To repeat, this novel really has it's basis in economic theories. The importance and worth, then worthlessness, of the once-almighty US dollar is explained, with the Econ. Professor husband/father Lowell expounding his Keynesianism in both discussions with his nephew Willing and at the dinner party early in the book. Not to spoil the story for the reader too much at this point, but the author, it turns out, is no Keynesian but more like a Libertarian (from Brooklyn! Really?) Interest rates, inflation, and the FED are mentioned so much that I think Ron Paul should have written a foreword fo the book.
It's a pretty good extrapolation, at least in the early part of the book, to have the older people, the Boomers and older, be the only people in America with much money. Many do have real assets, but the younger, especially latest 30 y/o's don't have money to put down on anything. This is both in the book and my opinion, but a good share of the blame should go to the school loan scam, discussed here (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3*) but NOT discussed in the book.
The younger set in the beginning of this novel is struggling mightily to just keep decent food on the table and conserve water. This is seen from a female perspective, which I can't complain about, and she gets into lots of detail. It is also seen from the viewpoint of city dwellers only. That is something that preppers are going to have a problem with, as the first thing a real prepper would tell you is "get out of the city". He may mean having your bug-out bag and vehicle ready to escape at any time, or more generally, for what's coming, DO NOT LIVE IN THE CITY - you'll be toast. I agree, but this city perspective in the book is a nice change from the advice about how to hook up your generator to propane and how much diesel to store on the farm and that sort of thing. From what happens next, the preppers are right, of course.
What happens next - pretty early on in the book - is that President Alvarado announces a renunciation of debts owed in US Dollars. I should backtrack just a little and say that the Euro countries, Russia, S. America (I think?) have all created a new currency called the "Bancor" that is being used instead of dollars. I.e, the 90 years stint of the buck as the reserve currency is ovah! Well, you can hyper-inflate all the debt away or you can renunciate the debt and have the money become worthless the latter way, but, no matter which, assets in this currency will (and DID, in the book) become worthless.
The author gets into the real economic crisis at the family level (mainly both the 3rd/4th generation families - Florence/Estaban and kid and Avery/Lowell and 3 kids). Things get bad, and then worse yet, but again the perspective is from the woman homemaker Florence. It gets down to the shortage and eventual total lack of toilet paper, water usages, and all that stuff that one might really not want to think about - yes, the author drills down to the level of wiping one's ass. Hey, it's not like this isn't important. I respect her pushing the points home that preppers have been well aware of - buying lots and lots of TP is always recommended. Still, whatever amount of TP you buy, and beans you have in #10 cans, there'll never be enough room in the city to have that much, there are people close by (and a real lack of long guns in Brooklyn - thanks Bloombergs!) that will make it all hard to defend. I would say that the middle of this book, though maybe not written for this purpose, does a great job of telling the reader "get the hell out of the cities."
(Even way out in the country, of course, with a long-term decline, all the stored stuff is only to hold one over. If it were for natural disasters, that works great. For a long-term seemingly permanent massive economic decline, the preppers discuss all that's needed to rebuild and keep things going with food on the table.)
That brings me back to the real problem with this woman's perspective, as though, the author writes of what she knows, a good thing, it means that all the other aspects of exactly what won't work in civilization and why are completely left out. It's likely too far a reach from a single woman who lives in "Brooklyn and London" to discuss exactly who will be able to bring back civilization, even at a lower level. That means men. That means men that have skills too, whether hand skills, but also mechanical thinking by engineering types.** Uh-oh, that means white men (to do it right!) That would have been a real problem, discussing how the Lats were going to rebuild civilization to the level of, what, Bolivia? Did the massive immigration bring in people who can no longer rebuild what was America? The book doesn't answer this one.
This is where the story has some irony, as Americans are not let across the border into Mexico even, and only the rich can get out (but without their cash - I'll get into that juicy economic/political stuff in a later post). In fact, the Mexicans have built some kind of big, beautiful wall - no, not a wall really, but a border barrier that works. (They would have used American escapee's remittance money, but there are currency controls, haha!) The other irony is that it's the Oriental tourists and speculators that are now traveling around, buying buildings for cheap, and living off what is a pittance in their own currencies, having a blast and feeling sorry for the poor destitute Americans. It's not sorry enough to where they are sending any aid, though. I guess even a Brooklynite author knows how things really work.
I will keep going with this review. Stay tuned.
* That's just discussion of the "forgiveness" aspect, as there's plenty more with the University and Economics topic keys.
** This is kind of a funny aspect, as Lowell, the Econ. Prof. is looked down upon by his wife Avery due to this not being any kind of skill that helps the Mandible family survive the new American economy I, and any decent non-Statist, would suggest that being an Econ. Professor NEVER helps the economy, other than just the simple teaching of the real basic supply&demand stuff to people who may run a business - see The Non-Science of Economics.
Since the former professor (he got laid off early on) is a Keynesian, his economically-precocious (and important character) nephew Willing has no respect for him, nor does the author. Lowell remains a Keynesian until the long run, when we are all dead. (No, no, that was NOT a spoiler!)