Kunstler asks “what America’s future?”

Summary: In this last chapter of my podcast with James Howard Kunstler, we discuss predictions of America’s future. This is one of the most interesting discussions I have had in many years. It provides a great introduction to the FM website’s themes.

Seeing the future

Are these the Crazy Years in America?
— Visions of America’s future.

Part 4 of a podcast interview by James Howard Kunstler.
KunstlerCast 322 is posted with his generous permission.

Kunstler is a skilled interviewer, and led our discussion into some fascinating areas. I will be using some of his insights in future posts. This is a cleaned-up transcript of the third chapter of the podcast, with links added for more information.


JHK – Another feature of our time is the increasingly poor race relations in America. How do you see the Left and Right using race to hustle the voter?

We always to look at these things from a top-down perspective, to see how they look to our elites. Race is such a wonderful thing in America – for our elites – because it’s so divisive. The supreme fear of the elites is that the peons realize they have common goals. Among them, to rein in our elites since they are taking most of the fruits from America’s productivity. For them, it’s wonderful to see the white and black Americans hating each other. They love that! When they didn’t have a tight rein on our society, unleashing those kinds of primal passions out was dangerous. But now that they’ve put the bit in our mouths. They have the massive police apparatus and the surveillance state, there are now willing to go further in making the peons hate each other.

JHK – What if the elites have a very serious tumble in the financial system, such as a serious currency problem – which I think is more likely than a stock market problem or a serious bond situation.

Markets are just mirrors of the real economy. The stock market is a kind of phantom, so a crash in it is not a big deal by itself. You must focus on the real economy. When considering things that could bring down the Republic, serious economic stress is high on the list. Like we had in the 1930s or in the more severe Long Depression in the last decades of the 19th century. Such events are potential inflection points for the fate of the political regime.

When we look at the things that could derail the trends we’ve been describing, economic stress is high on the list. I don’t see that happening, but of course it’s a possibility. By the way, that could happen only from gross incompetence by our leaders. But I’m confident that our elites are capable of gross incompetence.

JHK – Yes, but we’re seeing an awful lot of strange activity in finance right now, especially in the Federal Reserve’s interest rate shenanigans and their repo shenanigans. There are signs of some pretty intense instability out there.

I don’t believe in any of that. The Fed isn’t keeping interest rates low. The repo stuff it’s just inside baseball. Coming back to the key facts about instability, remember what brought down the Weimar Republic.

JHK – The inflation of 1923.

No! The hyperinflation was a near-death experience, but they survived it. They went on to become much stronger. What brought them down was the Great Depression, starting with the 1929 crash. That probably would not have brought them down either. Many countries survived the Great Depression. But Weimar’s leaders hit the wrong button: they implemented austerity. Which was the opposite of what the successful regimes did. Such as the United States under FDR or Germany very first Keynesian – the man who was such a brilliant economist that he invented Keynesian economics before Keynes. Adolf Hitler. He had it figured when he came to power in 1933.

He said, “I want to stimulate the economy, and spend lots of money.” Being Adolf Hitler, nobody was going to say “no” and talk to him about monetary constraints and balancing the budget. Everybody saluted and said, “Yes sir.” He did a massive expansion of the economy in every conceivable way. You were running an Arts Council in a small town and the local NAZI Gauleiter comes and says “Spend money.” You stage concerts, opera, and exhibitions of paintings. They built highways and cars, etc. Germany was stronger than Britain and France because Germany had smart policies and they had dumb ones

JHK – Yeah well, it’s a little hard to tell what happens under Keynesian situations when you apply it today to a system that’s overburdened with debt.

Yes, there’s no question that it’s always different. My point was that leaders can make bad decisions – and those can be terminal in difficult situations.

JHK – What is your scenario for the next 5 years, going into the 2020s? What are some of the things you predict?

I have a page of predictions. You’ve got to track them if you are serious – and see your batting average.

I predict continued economic growth, continued or accelerating technological progress {with occasional recessions}.

  1. Good news: a new industrial revolution has begun!
  2. Look ahead to America’s next great boom!

But I also expect increased social instability and slow progress toward some new politics. The Constitution continues to die as the foundations of our society are either burned or washed away. We will go further into the Crazy Years. The problem with that vision: translating it into specifics is inherently impossible. It’s the Crazy Years!

JHK – So what happens next?

I don’t know. Nobody can say what happens next. It’s the Crazy Years. This is the difference between me, a Boomer, and my 2 sons. I have an inherently optimistic view of the future. The Boomers came in into the world and were handed nothing but face cards. We handed our children a batch of low cards. My sons and their friends have a pessimistic vision of the future. It is, unfortunately, a realistic one. But not as bad as those Americans who entered adulthood during the Civil War, the Long Depression, or the Great Depression-WWII eras.

See A new, dark picture of America’s future.

JHK – Well, Larry, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I think we have a very good reason to check back in with each other in a few months and see how things are doing. …All right well it’s been a pleasure and I look forward to talking to you again and we communicate regularly anyway so so go forth and have a good day and we will ride again. Thank you for having me. Take care.

————————- End of the interview. ————————

Other chapters of this interview

  1. Kunstler asks “are these the Crazy Years in America?
  2. Kunstler asks “where are America’s leaders?”
  3. Kunstler asks “are Americans ready for tyranny?”
  4. Visions of our future.

About Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler
Photo by Charlie Samuels.

James Howard Kunstler (Wikipedia) worked as a reporter and feature writer for several newspapers, before working as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he began writing books on a full-time basis. Kunstler is the author of 12 novels and has been a regular contributor to many major media, writing about environmental and economic issues. He is a leading supporter of the movement known as “New Urbanism.”

He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, MIT, and many other colleges. He has written five non-fiction books.

For More Information

Ideas! For holiday shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.  Also, see a story about our future: “Ultra-Violence: Tales from Venus.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these posts about ways to reform America’s politics, and especially these…

  1. See the future. It begins the day after tomorrow. – A collection of my predictions.
  2. Good news: here’s why we won’t run out of minerals (including oil).
  3. WWI warns us about markets’ ability to see the future.
  4. Do we face secular stagnation or a new industrial revolution?
  5. Prepare for the coming changes. Changes in everything.
  6. A look ahead at the New America, after the gender wars.
  7. Many of our cities are collapsing – The next 2 decades will be ugly for some.
  8. Prepare for the next singularity. It will change everything.

Books about possible futures

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil (see his website).

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon (economist, professor of social sciences at NW U).

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman (founder of Stratfor).

The Rise and Fall of American Growth
Available at Amazon.
"The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century" by George Friedman.
Available at Amazon.

14 thoughts on “Kunstler asks “what America’s future?””

      1. This complacency: “I predict continued economic growth, continued or accelerating technological progress {with the occasional recession}, increased social instability, and slow progress toward some new politics.”

      2. Michael,

        So any positive forecast is “complacency”? Let’s check the dictionary.

        “a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.”

        That seems to better characterize you, to whom a forecast that differs from yours is arrogantly dismissed.

      3. I was not meaning to offend you, Larry. Perhaps I should have used a word less emotionally loaded. Like benign, for example. Have a good day.. I like your blog. You are most insightful.

      4. Michael,

        It’s an optimistic or benign forecast. On the other hand, it is the simplest kind of forecast: predicting a continuation of long-term trends. The West has had economic growth since the agricultural revolution began in the 17th century, accelerating with the first industrial revolution in the 18th century. There is little evidence that these processes have stopped – or even slowed.

        To the contrary – as I’ve documented in scores of posts, a new industrial revolution might be starting. If so, my forecast is far too mild.

        “Black swans events” are just a fancy way of saying that unexpected things happen. A forecast that something unexpected will stop economic growth is, imo, to take seriously. Of course, something bad could happen. That’s an inherent part of life, not a meaningful prediction.

        A prediction, in any useful sense, is saying what you believe will happen – and why.

      5. “A prediction, in any useful sense, is saying what you believe will happen – and why.”

        I don’t have much confidence in predictions. Adaptability/flexibility is much more important based on my experience planning production in the auto industry.

      6. Michael,

        “Adaptability/flexibility is much more important based on my experience planning production in the auto industry.”

        I’ll bet that those production schedules are based on predictions. For example, predictions that the production of a specific car this year will be within a given range. The extreme opposite of a system using predictions is build-to-order (as done by Henry Ford with the Model T, and early Dell with PCs). Wonderful but rarely feasible.

        No complex systems can be run without predictions, any more than you can drive a car without looking far down the road. Predictions are not just useful but essential for systems where decisions must be made in advance of firm data. Which is pretty much always, from planting crops to large building projects.

      7. Larry–

        All I’m saying is adaptability is more important than predictability. Most folks don’t predict they adapt, make adjustment, change plans, etc.

        Predictions in business often are designed support profits goals which are usually overly optimistic. What I’m saying is the real world doesn’t spend much time predicting. They spend their time achieving and adapting.

        On prediction in the automobile production process that was my job. All production was build to order. Either dealer orders or orders that we created.. That is not an issue. The predictions we used on forecast industry levels and our share. These were always assumed to be wrong to various degrees. Therefore it was necessary to always set the stage for failure or change.

        Predictions are most often based on politics, pie in the sky, etc. They have little value.

  1. Link notes: “past hits” doesn’t work. The “misses” page does not appear to have been updated since 2011 or you’ve had a perfect track record since then, not sure which.

    The “misses” page perhaps not being updated since 2011 suggests that it would be wise to review the “predictions” page again and make sure it is up to day.

    1. Pluto,

      Thanks for catching the bad link! Fixed.

      “The “misses” page perhaps not being updated since 2011”

      The last three entries on the list are for 2012, 2015 (a correction), and 2016. I don’t make many predictions, usually for long time horizons, and mostly only ones in which I have high confidence. The exception is that I predict outcomes for presidential elections for fun, and am as bad at that as pretty much everybody else.

  2. While I didn’t think of Hitler as a Keynesian, it previously occurred to me that he did what MMT recommends, “built it and they will come”.I got into an on line argument with someone who said it doesn’t work. Hitler demonstrated it does work. it has nothing to do with federal taxes. They are not where the money comes from, but from spending. Hitler also repudiated reparations and raided Jewish property, but I doubt that was sufficient to bring Germany to premier position on only 4 years. As you say, everybody else hit the wrong button. Neo liberals always hit the wrong button still today.

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