It's been a while since we've had to deal with a big economic downturn worthy of the name "Depression." Technically, we're not there yet, since techncally we're not even in recession, which basically requires negative growth sustained over two quarters. A depression is a sustained, deep recession. It isn't pretty.
How many people have been watching their 401(k)'s and 403(b)'s and the like stagnate or wither away this year?
How many people don't have 401(k)'s or 403(b)'s and the like to watch wither away?
We're watching the tail-end of a party that's been in decline since 1999, and it's had a long denoument, mainly thanks to the housing bubble, but now we've drunk those dregs and my friends the hangover is going to be ugly. You know the kind of hangover I'm talking about: the sort you get when you've scoured the house for any sort of alcohol just to keep the party going, and you've run through that old bottle of cooking sherry and even contemplated the rubbing alcohol...but you weren't quite that drunk.
What will we do when we can't afford to supersize our extra value meals anymore?
What will become of all those former Starbucks stores once 7 out of 10 customers stop buying their daily skinny decaf macchiatofrapuccinolatterrificos at $3.50 a pop?
I know one thing we won't be doing so much of...flying. What made flying so damn easy in the years since deregulation has pretty much gone away: low prices and convenience. Sure, prices are lower than they were before deregulation, but they're nowhere near as low as they were in the heyday of flying across the country roundtrip for under $200. Add to that price uptick the extreme inconvenience of flying...the little baggies, the security lines, the removal of shoes, belts, jackets, laptops, etc., the getting to the airport fifteen hours before your flight in order to deal with aforementioned hassles...and you've got a great formula for decreasing demand.
Air travel will return to that hallowed place it occupied in the 1970's, when a trip to a far off place was a big event and rarely occured on a yearly basis. I wonder if trains will pick up the slack, or are they subject to the same pressures in the same way as airlines? You certainly can't go across the country in five hours on a train.
We've built travel infrastructures to serve an economy that has been to a large extent itself built on assumptions of cheap energy. Our non-urban shopping models assume nearly universal automobile access. Our suburbs themselves assume nearly universal automobile access. Our McMansions in those suburbs are energy hogs. Our SUVs we drive to and from our McMansions in those suburbs are gas hogs. How does our model of 21st century American life look in an era of sustained scarcity of resources?
How many strip malls will become hobo jungles?
How will the homeless travel to this depression's pastures of plenty?