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100 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thought-provoking, insightful, but missed a bit, June 28, 2008
This review is from: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects (Paperback)
Dmitri Orlov has written an entertaining and thought-provoking comparison of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the post-oil end-game here in the U.S. By his own account, "entertaining and thought-provoking" were his goals for the book, and he has succeeded very admirably. I can recommend the book wholeheartedly, even as I respectfully disagree with some of his conclusions.

1. The collapse of the USSR was a political act; the USA is facing a resource-depletion-financial crisis. Now a financial collapse (K-Wave "winter," or the repudiation of all debts, public and private) certainly could lead to political collapse, but that is by no means set in stone.

The cultural and structural differences between the USSR and the USA are significant, and if Orlov had been an anthropologist his book might have drawn somewhat different distinctions. His primary thesis is that the Soviet Union was actually better prepared to weather collapse than the U.S., but I think he missed this critical difference: Russia and the other constituent states of the former USSR were resource-rich. Once they got their politcal house in order, they had immense resources to aid their financial recovery.

2. The Soviet Union was not a nation of immigrants; the U.S. is and has been since its inception. Even the Native Americans came from somewhere else, albeit a long time ago (though 12,000 years is merely a blink in geological time). Now on the surface immigration is driven by a number of things: hunger, poverty, desire for religious freedom, etc. But fundamentally it is a form of natural selection. Among any group of people, there wil be some who look around at the poverty, corruption, hopelessness and lack of opportunity for non-elite people and decide the best way to change their lives is to leave.

3. Religion plays a unique and powerful role in the U.S. in ways which it did not in the USSR. A quick glance at Russian art suggests the central role of the Church in Russian culture. But if Orlov were African-American, I believe his dismissal of religion might not have been so quick and assured.

Rather than the non-factor Orlov expects, I would reckon religious institutions will play critical roles in organizing people for their own betterment. People didn't come here to ignore their religion, they came here to practice it, and that goes for every religion. It's been said that the black church is the only institution owned lock, stock and barrel by the African-American community, and it will not be a non-factor in that community but a central institution of stability, hope and communal services.

4. Wandering around as a homeless migrant is not a good survival strategy. Orlov suggests at the end of his book that wandering between two or three sources of resources would be a good strategy. My own view is that freeloading is frowned upon in the U.S. and your best bet to is either stay put (yes, even in ghettos and urban neighborhoods) or move to a place where you have some roots (where you grew up is always a good place to start) or where there is some commonality: a church you belong to, an ecosystem you love and will nurture, etc.

5. The U.S. is on par with Sadr City, Iraq in terms of firepower in the hands of citizens. As the most heavily armed society in the developed world, the U.S. can easily go the way of well-armed criminal gangs controlling urban zones or well-armed militia sprouting up to take out the criminals. There is historical precedents for either scenario. A third scenario (common in the 3rd World) is for wealthy enclaves to hire private forces to protect the enclave.

While I can't predict which will play out in various circumstances, we should be aware that the U.S. has millions of military veterans and millions of weapons. The USSR had the vets but not the weapons in private hands. People will eventually choose to support an alternative to anarchy or criminal/mob rule, unless the criminal gang is the only alternative to something worse (i.e. the Sadr City scenario). Or people will pay extra to maintain a top-notch police force and let go of the other city services, performing them communally via volunteer labor.

My point is simply that a heavily armed culture with tens of millions of firearm-trained vets is not going to follow the route of a society without those two elements.

6. Orlov underestimates the power of the Web/Internet. Orlov is extending his experience in a pre-Internet Russia, in which you had to stand outside in the cold in order to hitch a ride. Assuming the Internet backbone will be maintained--and why wouldn't it be placed ahead of every other use except hospitals and the public safety centers?--then virtually everyone will be able to arrange barters of almost unimaginable range via the Web.

Despite these points (which are all debatable, of course), it's a very worthy exercise to read his work and make your own analysis.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 28, 2008 10:34:51 AM PDT
I very much like this review. One comment in particular: you consider various possible scenarios resulting from the wide distribution of firearms.

"... the U.S. can easily go the way of well-armed criminal gangs controlling urban zones or well-armed militia sprouting up to take out the criminals... A third scenario (common in the 3rd World) is for wealthy enclaves to hire private forces to protect the enclave."

I think we will see all of those scenarios, and others, acted out in various places. There is no reason to expect uniformity; in fact, just the opposite. I'm guessing that geographical and cultural differences will become more prominent than they are now. Yes, Sadr city or Fallujah will probably be mirrored in some places. At the opposite extreme (Berkeley? Oakland? Vermont? Rhode Island?) we might see some great examples of cooperative adaptation.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2008 10:42:57 PM PST
Thank you for taking the time to pointing out some very interesting criticisms of details of Orlov's scenario. In particular, the use of the internet to arrange barter/rideshares and the availability of guns are important considerations to how a collapse scenario might play out in the US.

Posted on Jan 23, 2009 8:21:01 AM PST
Tidewater says:
This is an admirable commentary on Orlov's book. Thought-provoking in its own right. As another reviewer mentioned, American men (at least most) are not drunk nearly to the extent that Russian men reportedly are. Moreover, there is a reservoir in the U.S. psyche of resourcefulness and determination that has been masked by the recent (post WW II) prosperity. I do not expect things to deteriorate into armed-gang lawlessness a la Mexico for these reasons among others. If the ghetto brothers make the mistake of taking their violence outside their urban enclaves, then there will be a prompt, firm response by police and, if needed, the National Guard. I do not expect a repetition of the 1960s when the 82d Airborne was called out to patrol Washington's streets, for example, due to misguided attempts at "understanding the causes of poverty" on the part of local authorities rather than dealing with the armed insurrection that was occurring.

So there are enough differences to make some of Orlov unbelievable. And yet . . . There no doubt is going to be a diminution in employment opportunities and in the standard of living of Americans, at least as measured by the Census Bureau. At the same time, however, the quality of life as measured by family solidarity and satisfaction with the simple things may actually increase. My guess is that at some point it will occur to many Americans that the two-earner, two-three-car family is way too expensive to maintain and that there will be a return to the one wage earner model. There are studies now that suggest that the one-earner families of the 1950s were actually better off economically than today's families with both spouses working. One significant difference: the 1950s families had savings rates of about 8% of earnings.

Another difference: illegitimacy in the 1950s was barely noticeable while today it is rampant. Due to restricted federal, state and local budgets, the outlook for children of single parents today is worse than ever. (Common sense would suggest that this realization will dawn on young women, in particular, but that is probably being too optimistic given cultural trends.)

Posted on May 11, 2009 1:37:49 PM PDT
Bandidoz says:
From point (4) I think you've misunderstood Orlov's point. His point was to be neither "nomadic", nor "settle in one place", but to have multiple places where you are KNOWN to the communities - multiple settlement instead of single settlement or no settlement.

For point (6) you have to bear in mind how energy intensive the internet backbone is, and it's probably quite fragile to shortages of energy. No doubt we'll see whether it makes a difference, though a good observation from yourself nevertheless!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2009 9:40:10 AM PST
And if the National Guard tries to act its color in Harlem, the "ghetto brothers" might have a few surprises waiting.

Nice code words, bigot.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 17, 2013 9:33:31 AM PST
gone to oz says:
This shows, by a tiny example but a clear and strong one, where the fury, anger and rage lies just under the surface - and that's a powerful force that can, and will, 'erupt' when 'things get bad'.
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