Recently, our local government held a budget retreat to plan the 2013 budget. The press release following this preliminary budget goal setting was sobering at the minimum. We are by now accustomed to government officials applying the most positive possible spin on an announcement. If this were indeed the positive spin, I hate to contemplate the true reality.
The government official stated to those gathered; “We can no longer do more with less, or even the same with less; that clearly we are going to do less with less”. He further stated “everything is on the table”. Today the local area comprised of a half million individuals is not yet grappling with double digit unemployment; it has the enviable unemployment rate of 6.7 percent. Nor is it grappling with severe mismanagement issues. However, as so many other government entities, it is grappling with sharply declining revenues, caused by the popping of the real estate bubble. This is an issue that will continue to grow during the course of the next few years.
This announcement is a story that many of the readers of Peak Oil Blues already have been living for the past 2 years or more, but it is just now beginning to arrive in my area. Many will read the first 2 paragraphs and yawn saying “been there, done that”. Let’s look more closely to determine why this issue here is so important.
It is occurring in an area that is not yet undergoing severe economic distress. That should be cause for alarm in other parts of the country where already unemployment is off the charts, and business is drying up. Secondly, it is a sign that things are truly not improving within our national economy. Finally, that our government officials do not see any improvement, or recovery on the horizon. This is not a short term problem with a quick fix. Painful reductions will be required to bring expenses and available revenues into balance.
As governments respond by trimming services and resources, the risks and responsibilities will be shifted right back on the shoulders of individual citizens. As the revenue continues its downward slide, many of the services that we depend on (the Essentials) to keep our communities and ourselves personally intact will contract to the point of being just a remaining shadow of service. Imagine having severe chest pains, calling 911, only to be informed that the EMS service can’t get to you until they have taken care of the three other citizens already waiting ahead of you. Picture yourself calling in to report a burglary in progress, only to be told that the only available law enforcement cannot be there for another 2 hours, responding to a backlog of more pressing calls. Does this sound like the plot of a horror movie? Already this has become the reality in several areas our country today. I expect living in such scenarios to become more prevalent during the next 12 months.
The continued eroding of our Essentials will cause great anxiety over the next few years. It will be up to us as individuals to try to prevent break-ins, reduce fire hazards, and build enough cohesive strength of community around us to assist with such needs as transport to emergency medical care. Our responsibilities for well being are being shifted back to us from all levels of government. Our 911 system is a wonderful thing, but only if the needed help arrives in a timely manner. We suddenly find ourselves having to shoulder more of the responsibility for meeting the challenges of protecting our lives and property.
Fuel costs will impact many of our commercially supplied “Essentials”. The responsibility for locating and acquiring those “Essentials” will be totally our own. Right now, the responsibility is shared between the store owner and yourself. As long as the store owners can make a profit, after covering overhead, they will continue to try to meet their responsibility as a supplier to you the customer. But as the profit from doing so diminishes under the weight of rising fuel costs, owners will supply progressively fewer of your “Essentials”.
If you want to do an interesting experiment starting today, go to your favorite food store, pick an aisle in the canned goods area, count the number of steps from the beginning of the aisle to the end. Walk up and down the aisle several times; note the variety and brands of canned goods carefully. Repeat this process a year from now and see if anything has changed. This only works if the store doesn’t “remodel”. “Remodel” is a convenient term used to hide the fact that the store no longer carries as much merchandise or variety by shuffling its locations around the store. We will see lots of “remodeling” in the future.
Many of you will say this is too gloomy a posting, and surely cannot happen here. The sad fact is that already it is happening around you. The pace of change to a less with less lifestyle is gradual now and not readily apparent unless one stops and looks, but the dark horizon suggests that the process is about to speed up.
As our government officials stated “we can’t get more with less, or keep the same with less”. We will have to deal as individuals and communities with living less with less. The “essentials” are not only supplies, but services too. The time to start determining how you will accommodate a future with “less” is today.
After today the time that remains to make your plans is less.