The French are Planning a Run on the Banks

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We’ve all seen the protests against austerity measures that are happening all over Europe. The French seem to be particularly passionate about protesting against the Government and big banks who they see as having caused the financial crisis. The country known for it’s bloody and violent revolution at the end of the 18th century now looks set to try and start another, with a run on the banks.

The idea seems to have spawned from a recent interview in which former Manchester United star, Eric Cantona, recommended a run on the cash reserves of the world’s banks. (watch the interview at the bottom of the page).

We don’t pick up weapons to kill people to start the revolution. The revolution is really easy to do these days. What’s the system? The system is built on the power of the banks. So it must be destroyed through the banks. This means that the three million people with their placards on the streets, they go to the bank and they withdraw their money and the banks collapse. Three million, 10 million people, and the banks collapse and there is no real threat. A real revolution. ~ Eric Cantona

Cantona’s call to action has inspired a new political movement, first in France and now spreading virally around the world. The French-based movement – StopBanque – has taken up the campaign for a massive coordinated withdrawal of money from banks on 7 December 2010. Their facebook page indicates that already people in 24 countries are supporting the movement.

Are you prepared?

If this movement continues to build momentum and spreads to all the continents of the world where people are upset with bank bailouts and indebted governments, this bank run may be enough for the governments to declare a ‘bank holiday‘. Remember, banks only have a very small fraction of cash on hand and if enough people withdraw their money on 7 Dec 2010, it will not be long until the banks are forced to close their doors to avoid further withdrawals.

If this movement gets REALLY big, it could well bring down the banking system when banks find their balance sheets out of kilter as their deposits disappear. I think this is unlikely. Governments would step in before it got that bad, but the likely result would be an extended bank holiday until the threat subsides.

Of course, all of this might result in nothing at all. My point is: if the banks close their doors for a day or more, if your ATM and credit cards stop working, will you have enough cash on hand to go about your business? Would it be worth getting some out in advance….just in case?

Self-Sufficiency and Resilience – Plans upon Returning to Australia

 

Back in January of this year I wrote a post about Self Sufficiency, Independence and Lifestyle Planning . In it, I explained how I wanted to become less reliant on the current industrial system and to take more control of my own life. I’ve achieved a lot since then, but knowing that we were moving back to Australia in less than a year meant that I put off some changes. Now that we are only about 10 weeks away from returning home, I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting that post; to envisage what I want our new lifestyle to look like and to outline some goals for the next few years.

1. Getting off the Economic Grid

In 2010 I finally paid off the last of my mortgages. Now that I’m no longer paying any interest, my cashflow is healthy and I’m saving a large percentage of my after-tax income. Knowing that we have to buy a car and appliances when we get back, my priority now is to save for those big-ticket items. The last thing I want to do is go into debt to buy depreciating assets.

Upon return to Australia, my income drops but Brendan will be back at work so it should even out. We don’t relish the thought of both being back to full-time work, but at least in the short-term we see that it is necessary. We both have secure jobs for the moment, so we plan to use this opportunity to save like crazy. Comparative to the rest of the world, the Australian economy looks reasonably healthy at present. But in this globally connected world I can see that a number of potential crises could impact Australia quite heavily within the decade. I still think the biggest risks come from the Australian Housing Bubble and the reliance of the Australian economy on China. I anticipate that any crisis in the European and American economies (looking more and more likely) will result in rapidly rising interest rates in Australia. Australian homeowners are already struggling with their mortgages while the cash rate is 4.5%. How will they cope if it increases to 9%? 

Holding cash in an economic environment like this just makes so much sense to me. We are using the current ‘recovery’ to prepare for the hard times we predict will come as the global debt bubble unravels.

2. Reducing Energy Dependence

Cheap energy will not last forever and my family and friends in Australia are already seeing rising prices, especially on the electricity bill. There are a few lifestyle decisions we’ve made which should help us to reduce our energy dependence once we are back in Australia.

Firstly, we are renting a detached townhouse just a 15 minute walk to the city centre. It has any excellent walk score which was really important to me. My daily commute to work will be about 4km each way, so I’ll easily be able to do that by bicycle and Brendan will be able to do the same to his work. By carefully choosing where we wanted to live we can reduce our dependence on a car. We will still buy one car, but I anticipate that it will remain in the garage for much of the time. Removing the requirement to buy a second car also saves us a lot of money.

In selecting what car to buy, we have been referring to the Green Vehicle Guide. It’s an excellent website which rates Australian vehicles based on greenhouse and air pollution emissions. It also provides statistics on how much fuel each vehicle consumes. We are very keen to find a fuel efficient, second-hand car.

We’ll also be using the Government’s energy rating guide when shopping for energy-efficient appliances. Our new home is centrally heated with natural gas and we are hoping that the smaller size will reduce our heating expenses. Otherwise, we plan to rug up in order to avoid using too much energy to heat our living space.

3. Improving Food and Water Security

My first priority once we’ve settled into our new home it to begin stockpiling some food and water for emergencies. Knowing that we can sit out a short distruption to services is very comforting. I would never want to put myself in the position where I had to rush off to the shops in a time of emergency to stock up on food and water. It also makes good economic sense to stock up on more than you need. Food is increasing in cost faster than just about any investment right now and certainly faster than the rate of inflation. When things are on sale, we’ll simply stock up and we’ll buy in bulk every six months or so.

I’ve already identified a food co-op not too far from my house where we can buy bulk-goods without all the packaging you get in the supermarket. It also looks like they stock fresh fruit and vegetables.

We don’t have a lot of room for it, but we intend growing some of our own food. The courtyard we have is not very big, but we’ve been surprised how much we’ve been able to grow in our small courtyard in California. Of course, the climate in California is much more condusive to growing food all year round than Canberra, but I’m sure we’ll learn as we go along.

4. Building Community

It’s important to me to get involved in the community when we get home. We feel like we’ve been in limbo for the last three years, but once we are back in Australia I hope we feel a bit more settled. We already have a lot of friends in Canberra, but I’m very keen to meet more like-minded people as well.

I’m especially excited about checking out SEE-change, the local Canberra community for creating a sustainable future.

I finally feel like things are falling into place. I’m now at the point where I can visualise our new life back in Australia and I’m even starting to get a little excited about the move.

Photo by : jef safi

I’m still alive

Thanks to Dixiebelle for checking if I’m still here. Let me assure you I am. My life these days just seems consumed with deadlines at work and all the rigmarole surrounding an international move.

In ten weeks time, we’ll be putting our dog on a plane back to Australia, having our farewell parties with our American friends and work colleagues, packing up our house and then putting ourselves on a plane to Europe where we’ll spend a month travelling by train before heading back to our new lives in Canberra, Australia.

It’s hard to believe that our time here in the USA is coming to an end and we have been going through a whole range of emotions during these last few months. Saying goodbye to the place we now call home will be sad. We’ve loved living here and although clichéd, living in American for these last few years has been a life changing experience. Seeing America from the outside and knowing America from the inside are two very different things, and I’ve been very glad for the opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture. My eyes have been opened to a great many new things.

I dissapeared for a while becuase for a couple of months there I was extremely stressed. I don’t deal very well with stress as I tend to descend into a pit of depair. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life, but at least I know myself well enough now to recognise the symptoms and make changes in my life to reduce the effects. To be honest I was shocked when I realised what was happening to me. Since embracing voluntary simplicity a couple of years back, I have been stress free and it has been bliss. Unfortunately something about this upcoming move had sent me back to my old ways and it was a real reminder of how life can spiral out of control if you let it. Anyway, I feel like I’m now over that hurdle and have a plan in place to get everything done that needs doing before we go.

I’ll try to provide more updates on this blog as I get the chance, but in the meantime, I’m still updating my facebook page with interesting links. Come on over and join the community growing there.

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Photo by h.koppdelaney

The End of Retirement

A while back, I wrote about the coming en masse Boomer (1943-1960) retirement and how it is likely to affect the economy. Today, after reading the post and comments about The Grey Tsunami over at Down To Earth, I’d like to take that thought process one step further.

I’ve previously discussed how populations in industrialised nations are ageing. As an example, the number of people aged 65 or older in Australia will increase from 2.9 million to an estimated 7.4 million by 2049. The percentages are similar for most of the wealthy nations.

Additionally, mounting government debt poses a painful choice for developed countries; either a deep reordering of public expectations about everything from the retirement age to tax rates, or slower growth. In all likelyhood, it will be both.

Raising retirement age

The growth in the proportion of older people has major implications for the aged pension and for Federal and State budgets if taxation revenues were to shrink. If we were to ensure the proportion of five people of working age for every one retired was maintained, retirement ages would have to be lifted dramatically in the decades to come. There is no question that difficult decisions will be required.

To keep the economy moving in the face of a greying population, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) has recently called for the retirement age to be raised to 73 by 2049. I’ll be 72 in 2049, so this will very much affect the younger Gen X (1961-1981) and Millennials (1982-??).

The best way to deal with this issue ( from the government’s perspective),  is to raise the retirement age so you can’t begin drawing your old age pension till later …….preferably not before you die. This keeps you paying into the system longer without drawing any benefits.

Superannuation (401K) will not save us

It turns out Australians face a collective $695 billion “shortfall” between what they’ll have to retire and what they need. A professor at the National Centre for Social and Economic Modeling pointed out the following in an Age article:

  • The average super account balance for males aged 60 to 64 is $135,000.
  • For females it is $62,000.

But, apparently, the average isn’t terribly descriptive, because of a minority with very large Super balances. So, let’s check out the medians instead.

  • The median balance for men is $33,000
  • The median balance for women is a big fat 0.

So, half of women have no super. Please let that sink in. Here is the link to the article again. It’s still 0 when you read it a second time. Of course, this is misleading, as it includes those women well before retirement.

  • the median account for men aged 50-59 is $44,000
  • the median account for women aged 50-59 is $10,000

Retiring on $10,000 in the next few years isn’t an attractive proposition. But wait, there’s more. The professor reckons that “the old assumption that people would retire debt-free will not hold true for the next generation of retirees.” They have debt too. That means interest as well.

This is the reason that Governments of wealthy nations are worried. We can see this in Australia, where the Government is encouraging mass immigration and encouraging a new baby boom through the ‘baby bonus’.

The Solution?

So what happens if the government raises the retirement age to the point where it’s likely that you’ll die before you can retire? What happens if the purchasing power of your Superannuation (401K) is steadily eaten away by a sluggish economy and rising prices? Assuming you can keep a job, do you just keep working until you die?

Personally, I am not expecting to ever see a cent from the government for my retirement. I’m not even expecting to see any money from my Superannuation. After all, it relies on the economy growing steadily for the next 40 years and I have my doubts about that.

For me, the answer is to become as resilient and self-sufficient as possible. Realigning expectations to this reality, getting out of debt, reducing expenses, finding work that I love and will enjoy doing into my old age. These are all maxims of voluntary simplicity and I hope they will all serve well to deliver a dignified ‘semi-retirement’. The notion that we can all play lawns bowls and jetset around the world during our final years will not last much longer.

To end, I wanted to include some of the comments from the post, The Grey Tsunami over at Down To Earth as I think they amplify my thoughts on this topic.

What are your thoughts?

This is an important message. My husband and I are in our early 30’s, and we understand that here in the US, there will be no social security for us, and that the age of retirement for those who do receive a pension might well be 70. Simple living, with an emphasis on health in terms of meals and lifestyle are going to be the only comfort for us and others like us. ~ The Simple Poppy

This is one big reason why I am so glad I stepped forward into this life while I am young. This issue actually makes my DH angry, because he has believed for a long time that we will not get this money back. And here in Canada, it’s a lot of money. My goal is to have an entirely self-sufficient home, where we can live without electricity, gas, even plumbing if need be, and that it be modern and beautiful at the same time. My DH is making me a solar oven and a cob oven so that we will have two alternatives from the modern oven. Things in my home are getting slowly replaced- the essentials, so that if we don’t have money for them, we aren’t in the bind. We aren’t counting on a pension, we never were. We are preparing. I’m glad you raised this issue though- we need to all know we cannot rely on the government to take care of us, and take steps now. ~ The Girl in the Pink Dress

I’m 43, and hubby is 46. I was told by my financial planner not to count on any social security or state pension being available when it came time to retire. It was all up to me. So, we have a house with no mortgage, have no debts, and are saving, saving, saving and becoming self sufficient as much as possible. The government coffers are bare, and it is up to us to fill them ourselves if we don’t want to be working until we drop. ~ AM of the bread

The objectives of the welfare state were undoubtedly noble and humanitarian, but the results have been disastrous. As harsh as it may sound, I think it would have been better if entitlements like the aged pension had never been enacted in the first place. And I didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to help me arrive at this conclusion. Instead of incentivising self-reliance, hard work and financial responsibility, what we have now is a system which actively encourages dependency and tells us that becoming a ward of the state is something to which we should all aspire. Anyone listening to talk-radio in the lead-up to the recent federal election (in Australia) would have heard what this does to a person’s moral compass. Instead of expressing concern for the country as a whole and acknowledging that profligate spending is unsustainable and destabilising (see Greece), most callers were only interested in what was in it for them personally…and to hell with where this leaves their grandchildren and all future generations. Obviously the current system cannot be abolished overnight and the transition from welfare dependency to self-reliance needs to be fair and just, but the fabric of our society will be made all the stronger once the aged pension is all but eliminated (some kind of safety net will no doubt still be available). ~ Simone

Weekend Without Oil

If you prefer to walk or bike instead of using a car, enjoy being outside, use reusable bags, avoid plastic bottles, eat meat sparingly or not at all, research makeup and cosmetic products for safety, carry a refillable water bottle, and generally avoid buying crap you don’t need and using the stuff you do have as long as it is useful, then you are well on your way to successfully completing the Weekend Without Oil challenge.

Call to Action

On August 21st and 22nd, commit to these 11 actions!

  1. Walk or ride your bike: Avoid using cars and if you must, always try to carpool. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of our petroleum consumption and is easily one of the biggest areas we need to improve upon.
  2. Enjoy the outdoors: Avoid buying new sporting equipment, since oil makes up nearly 25% of rubber. Footballs or basketballs, for example, can last for many years and used equipment is often just as good and will reduce demand for oil needed to make new rubber.
  3. Use reusable bags: Avoid disposable plastic. Plastic bags are a huge waste for very little benefit. Nearly 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption, approximately 2 million barrels a day, is used to make plastic products alone.
  4. Be conscious about what you eat that weekend: You can reduce oil demand by changing your diet to eat less meat, more local foods that require less transportation and organic food, which doesn’t use petro-based fertilizers.
  5. Don’t buy new make-up that weekend: The majority of cosmetics are petroleum-based, including lip gloss, face powder, nail polish, and more. So avoid buying new make-up products this weekend and research the brands when you purchase in the future.
  6. Drink tap water: Avoid beverages bottled in disposable plastic, they make up nearly 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year, so get a reusable bottle and fill it up.
  7. Make your electronic gadgets last: Avoid buying new electronics. Electronics take a lot of oil to produce and the gadgets you already have can last much longer than the rate at which new ones are released.
  8. Go to the movies or stream them on Hulu: Avoid buying new DVDs/Blu-Rays, as oil is a key ingredient in their production, packaging and shipping.
  9. Skip buying new clothes that weekend: Swap clothes with friends or check out the local vintage store. The less new clothes you buy the less oil is used in the manufacturing process and transportation.
  10. Head to your local library or read online: Avoid using a printer and buying printed material including daily newspapers. Printing doesn’t just waste paper, nearly 100,000 gallons of ink each day is used on daily newspapers alone.
  11. Spread the word! Get 3 friends to sign the pledge and help raise awareness on ways they can help reduce their dependence on oil-related products.

Who’s in?

Photo by: identity chris is

More content now on Facebook

 

I’m finding lately that I’m doing more reading than writing, and I’m not updating this blog as often as I’d like. I do however, have lots of great links to share and this blog just doesn’t seem to be the right platform for it. I’ve therefore decided to create a new Facebook page. Here’s what it’s about:

Energy depletion, environmental destruction and economic crises are the biggest three issues of our time and they are converging to a point where the next two decades are unlikely to be anything like the last.Here I’ll discuss the great challenges we can expect to experience over the coming decades and provide links to relevant news articles which discuss these issues. I’ll also link to people and organisations doing the good work of moving us towards a more resilient, sustainable and just society.

If you are on Facebook and would like to receive daily links please ‘Like’ this new page. I’d love to create a parallel community over there.

Becoming A Good Human 

Alaska…oh how I love thee…

Brendan and I are currently in Alaska visiting with friends. We’ve only been here for two days and I already feel like a new person. I start the day out drinking coffee overlooking the mountains and Eagle River where Bald Eagles have made a nest and swoop and soar on the air currents.

Both days we’ve been out hiking and the fresh, crisp is a welcome change. Yesterday’s hike took over three hours once we stopped at the river and ate some lunch which enjoying the view. This morning I went for a mountain bike ride while Brendan ran and we are soon off for another hike.

I just wanted to provide a quick update to let you know that I am now feeling much better after feeling horrible for the last month. I think visiting with good friends and some quality time in nature to thank for that.

Photo by: Douglas Brown

Living in Another World

I’ve been in a real funk lately and feeling very disconnected from people. I have a physical ache in my chest and I can only describe it as a feeling of deep loneliness. Even though I’m surrounded by people, I want nothing more than to spend time with my family and given that we are isolated in another country, my family here equals Brendan and my dog Zoe. I haven’t been able to articulate what I’m feeling until I read this passage on Dave Pollard’s blog this morning. This very closely approximates what I’m feeling these days.

(H)aving rejected every notion of civilization culture, I no longer have anything to talk about with most people.

When I’m out in public I often listen to conversations, and what I hear is nothing but vapid time-wasting, echo-chamber reassurances, regurgitated propaganda, sob stories, unactionable rhetoric, appalling misinformation, self-aggrandizement, gossip, manipulation and denigration of others. I hear no new ideas or insights, no cogent discussion of how we can prepare for, and increase our resilience in the face of, the impending sixth great extinction and the economic, energy and ecological collapses that will push that extinction into overdrive and bring down the most expansive and least sustainable civilization in our species’ short history. And what else is worth talking about?

Yet, all around me, people who have not had the luxury of time and resources, as I have, to learn how the world really works, and what is really going on, and to imagine what we might do about it, and how we might live better, carry on as if nothing much is wrong and as if everything in our unsustainable and doomed culture somehow makes sense, and will somehow continue, and get better.

For much of my life I felt as if I were the one living in another, twilight world, shut off from everybody else, unable to make sense of, connect with and be part of the seemingly exciting world they lived in. But now I feel it is all these people, lost in illusion, who are in the twilight world, the one that makes no sense and has no substance. Part of me wants to rescue them, but part of me knows that they are not ready or able to listen, that their worldview is so utterly different from mine that it is as if we spoke unfathomably different languages.

There is a kind of comfort in learning so much, in being “too far ahead”, in knowing that I am more aware of the terrible truths of this world and of our time, than most people can or will ever be.
But it is a cold and lonely comfort, one suffused with grief and a sense of anomie, rootlessness, purposelessness, directionlessness. As I am reconnecting with all-life-on-Earth I am disconnecting from the culture I have known all my life, and all the people attached to it. It is a bleak and anti-social journey I am on, and knowing that it’s right, and inevitable, and will help me become nobody-but-myself again, is, at this frightening moment, small solace.

Photo by: gari.baldi

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to America: Part 1

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post on this here blog. The main reason is that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Sometimes writing helps my thinking, but recently thinking has been getting in the way of writing.

With five months to go until we leave the US and head back to Australia, I think I’m starting the process of saying goodbye to our home of the last few years. Everywhere we go now we take special notice of all the things we’ve loved about this country. On the flipside, all the things we’ve disliked have amplified recently and are driving us nuts. I thought it might be cathartic to start writing all these thoughts down.

  • I’m really going to miss where we live. We can walk to the shops, restaurants, brewery and cafes in about 5 minutes. I can ride to work in 10. We can ride to the library, bookshop, concerts in the park and most of our friends in 10 minutes. We can catch a ferry to the city and it only takes 15 minutes and is a lovely relaxing way to enjoy the evening or a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m going to miss all the fantastic events available here. Free local classes on gardening, bee-keeping, fermenting. Getting to sit in on lectures by people I found on the internet: Chris Martenson (The Crash Course) and Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff). There is never any shortage of interesting things going on here. I worry that Australia is going to feel very ‘small’ in comparison. 
  • I’m going to miss the house we live in. It’s an older house on very little land, but it has three very mature orange trees and a dwarf apple tree. We’ve dug up the weeds surrounding the front courtyard, improved the soil with homegrown compost and now have a small but thriving vege patch. I’m going to miss that.
  • I’m going to miss morning walks along the Bay. I’ll miss seeing the ducklings grow up every year. I’ll miss the supersized seagulls which we don’t have in Australia.
  • I’ll miss the insects and birds that have now made a home in our garden. The bees, the hummingbirds, the Black Phoebe, even the caterpillars.
  • I’ll miss the people I work with. I work in an international office which means I make friends with people from all over the world. We also have some great parties. When the Spanish won the World Cup Final, we celebrate with fresh crunchy bread, salami, cheese, olive oil and Spanish Wine. For Bastille Day tomorrow, we are partaking in Croissants for breakfast. For Australia Day we have a huge BBQ with 300 of our closest friends! Canada Day: It’s Maple Syrup, Ice Wine and Moose Milk. Any Mexican holiday sees us eating tortillas and drinking tequila. And on and on it goes. With so many different countries represented here, we always have something to celebrate.
  • In general, Americans seem to be much ‘nicer’ than Australians. To your face at least, most Americans will be polite and friendly and will at least feign some interest in where you are from. I’ve become accustomed to people here commenting on your clothes, haircut etc and every now and then saying how nice you look. I don’t remember that ever happening in Australia…except maybe my wedding day and that was mandatory for all attending. 

 

  • On the other hand, I’ve found that Americans are not necessarily very genuine with their feelings. It takes a long time to get beneath the veneer. Australian’s generally are fairly honest about that sort of thing (sometimes painfully so), so I initially found it difficult to adjust to the difference in culture. I had an American friend who was clearly (to me) having a very bad day, but she painted on a smile and everyone around her chose to believe it. It’s a little weird and to be honest it makes it hard to believe people when they say anything to you. In general, ‘let’s catch up’ does not mean there will be any effort made. ‘Party starts at 6pm’ means that people will arrive between 6:30 and 7pm. Most Americans will leave soon after desert is served (usually by 10pm), while the Australians, Canadians, Spanish and Finnish will still be there at 2am. It took some time work out that this is not personal and to not be offended by it.
  • The sheer amount of waste here is heartbreaking. Lawns are watered every day (we live in the desert) and most of the time the sidewalk and street are liberally watered as well. People leave the hose running down the gutter while washing the car. The amount of trash is incompressible. The garbage bins (trash cans) in our street are easily six times the size of what we had in Australia and are often overflowing with waste. People here at work will use Styrofoam plates and plastic forks for lunch, even though I brought in real plates and cutlery for everyone to use. It does my head in.
  • I’m flabbergasted at the size of the SUV’s around here; usually with one passenger. Hummers. ‘Nuff said.
  • The bureaucracy here is unbelievable. Forms are lengthy and not intuitive. The banking system is archaic by western standards (although getting better). Telecommunications companies are frustrating to deal with. Anything that involves the Government seems to take forever and never works easily. Some days I seriously want to scream at the ineptitude. Lately, I just have to laugh and shake my head instead. Otherwise I’ll go crazy.
  • Important mail goes missing about 50% of the time. Unacceptable.

Anyway, that’s probably enough sharing for today. I’ll probably revisit this theme on occasion during the next five months.

Photo by: Der Ohlsen