I recently led a workshop on future scenarios at the Washington State Permaculture Convergence last September. Although the workshop took place in September, prior to when the major events began impacting our global economy, there was a clear consensus among the 40 participants that things were likely to begin falling apart within the next 4-5 years. So we chose 5 years as our “time horizon” for considering future scenarios.

In the beginning of the workshop we established some key factors that will likely have an impact on future scenarios. The two primary factors were:
1. How aware the community is
2. How fast the system comes apart.

Using these two variables, we set up a matrix of four potential scenarios, as below:

I. Hi community awareness; slow crash
II. Lo community awareness; slow crash
III. Hi community awareness; fast crash
IV. Lo community awareness; fast crash

The 40 partricipants divided into four groups, and each group was assigned to one of the four scenarios. The four groups each described what the future might look like under their particular conditions. Many of the four groups also named their scenario.

When the four groups shared their stories about the future, it became very clear that group I. was the most desirable future: a lot of community awareness, and a slowly unfolding crash that gave them as much time as possible to take appropriate steps of preparation. That group named their scenario “Wedgie”, to convey the situation when people can feel something happening slowly enough that they can consider how to do something about it. They have the motivation, but they also have the time.

In considering what is occurring in the world now, it seems to me that of all the possibilities that could have happened, we’re taking the route of “slow crash”. Because of the massive infusions of cash that our country (and many others in the world as well) are taking, we are postponing the deflationary effects that we had been facing when the liquidity crunch first began to impact us.

As I’ve written about in a previous blog, Shoot the Moon , many people believe that we are a a point in the cyclical economic cycles that occurs when debt levels peak, and a depression typically occurs (approximately every 50 years). The infusion of liquidity was our strategy to avoid the deflation which typically occurs during these depressionary cycles. Some people believe it will work; perhaps it will. I tend to believe that it will only postpone the economic pain that would have come with bank and corporate and homeowner defaults. Instead we will have a hyperinflationary period which will result in a longer-term collapse of the dollar and its purchasing power, which will have the same end result of serious economic pain.

If this is correct, then it is possible that the slower, drawn-out period of economic unraveling will be an opportunity for people to become more prepared for what is occurring. A “slow crash”, but with sufficient discomfort that it can motivate people to become more aware and to take appropriate steps of preparation. As the dollar depreciates in purchasing power, and we once again have higher transportation costs, we may become more motivated to begin growing our own food and to build community connections that will support us in the future.

There have been many different suggestions about the shape of our future economy. Some talk about a “V-Shaped” recovery. Others look for a “U-shaped” recovery. I (as many who know me might predict) see the shape to be more of an “L-Shaped” economy.

Whichever letter it turns out to be, we wouldn’t be hurt if we took steps to be prepared for the L-shaped one. Increased home and neighborhood food gardens, increased skills and knowledge for how to take care of ourselves and our families and our neighborhoods, enhanced local community production 9f other goods and services..

I don’t particularly have a lot of hope for the economic stimulation of TARPS and Obama plans, but they may be giving us the gift of time.

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