Wednesday 10 December 2008

The soil will be much richer for the ashes.....


Take a good look around you. The operating system you’re using, the age of your computer, the furnishings, the cell phone you’re using, the clothes you’re wearing, even the watch strapped to your wrist or the cup of “four bucks” frappe/latte/cino number you’ve ordered in the coffee shop. Soak in all the little details of 21st century living and try and hold that image, because quite frankly I don’t think things are ever going to be the same again you see, because the ultimate green shopper is an oxymoron. The ultimate green shopper doesn't shop. That's the sick end of marketing.
We’ll probably never have as much new stuff around us as we are looking at now. It’s easy to become conditioned by new stuff, even easier to be dissatisfied with it all, wanting ever newer and more complex gadgets.

The financial meltdown that I first talked about over here hasn’t even really properly kicked off. As I understand it from the huge amount of reading I’ve been doing, it took four whole years for the depression to reach it’s full depth. I doubt if this one will take so long but let’s assume it’s three times as fast for the sake of arbitrary guessing because that is after all what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to guess what and when. I think I’ll get the times more wrong than the what.

My first attempts at trying to visualise the near future ended up with a sort of feeling that the developed world such as the United States and the E.U. would take more of a hit than the developing world, and that stands to reason doesn’t it? The lower the per capita GDP, the less the potential fall in the standard of living.

The bigger they are the harder they fall so to speak.

But having spent some time looking at the China figures, there’s a whole world of pain there too, that takes on a different dimension because of the sheer scale of the numbers. 20 million migrant workers already back on the farms and changing the demographics probably forever. It really is a hell of a mess whatever way we cut the figures.

The nasty pill to swallow is the potential for the food chain to break down. We’ve already seen an institution like Woolworths hit the floor and yet that’s just a taste of where it’s heading. Woolworths was always like the sick puppy on the edge of the pack that failed to make money in the good times when money was abundant, and thus is first to go as money liquidity tightens. Who is next? National Express coaches? Debenhams? 3 mobile phone network? Which business entity (which brand) has been running on vapours during the good years? Those are the people who are likely to bow out first. But it’s worse than that isn’t it? Because if someone who moves or distributes food about takes a hit from liquidity problems then that’s the end of very specific foodstuffs in our supermarkets. Some are talking about the need for growing local food again; turning gardens into allotments - which is ironic given the sweet spot thing I talked about and how local foods are the least carbon intensive. So who is the weakest supermarket in the UK these days? Is it Safeway? Does Safeway even still exist? It’s been some years since I looked at UK supermarkets but the point is still the same. Who is the weakest in the pack? Local food folks. Read or listen to Rushkoff or Paterson if it’s a smarter mind than mine you seek.

Anyway there is the worst of it, those links are some of the really smart people out there (Rushkoff is my new Daddy!) who are capable of making the meta leap over the information that I would take an age to digest and the suggestion that they conclude upon is the likelihood of a loss of confidence in traditional paper money, and a potential return of local currencies (barter is always good too, barter is very good). They also suggest the end of retail or put another way the end of abundance.

I think that seems a fair suggestion to make.

I always had a few problems with the ‘free’ economy, and that was mainly because it could only be accessed by the wealthy participants. It’s not really FREE is it if only we can access it and a vast amount of people in the world who live on a dollar a day have no access to it at all? That’s not free, that’s called privileged isn’t it? I am, and so are you if you’re reading this. We're privileged and don't you forget it.

I guess the 'free economy' or model is starting to look a bit like irrational exuberance when all is said and done. Nothing is for free isn't it? Not even if those transistors that are infinitely able to make themselves faster or smaller. The point is you can’t eat transistors. Just a thought folks. Try living off Moore’s law if you’re hungry.

So if we’re moving from the age of abundance to an age of scarcity what impact does that have on marketing communications? Well given the paucity of marketing communications on Red Square in Moscow during the 80’s, or on Tiananmen Square in Beijing today (out of courtesy) or across the entire length of North Korea I’d say that in an age of scarcity not abundance the need for marketing communications is drastically reduced. I don’t know how much is left. I do know that whatever is left will be fought for, and highly competitive. It will probably be damm good too. I just don’t know how much of the pie is left after the party is over and all that is left is an almost immeasurable canyon of debt. For that is all there is left it seems. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan will be OK. They did well out of the last great depression didn’t they?

As far as I can figure out the only ‘rewire our economies’ ideas that those at the Treasury and at the Fed are capable of coming up with work along the lines of consumption will get us out of this mess. Can you believe that? Do you really believe that?

This is gross intellectual fraud isn’t it? Didn’t excess consumption put us in this mess in the first place? I keep going back to a comment I read on Naked Capitalism; that the soil will be much richer for the ashes and yet it seems that the stateside Wall Street and Whitehouse folk are hell bent on denial that we’re even on fire, all the while fueling the flames with more and more borrowed money to put off the impending collapse of the financial system. Yet isn’t that the logical conclusion. Shouldn’t the system collapse before new shoots of growth emerge? The soil will be much richer for the ashes.....remember that.

Probably a lot of you are thinking this is unnecessarily gloomy, yet I’m not unhappy. I’m more optimistic about the future than at any other time in my life, in a perverse kind of way.

I know that all those with businesses and mortgages or negative equity in property or worthless shares or credit card bills up to their eyeballs will be very reluctant to read a post of this nature, and truthfully I’m no seer or a prophet. But what I am able to do that most it seems are really really reluctant to engage with, is play with the notion that things really aren’t good at all this time and to take those arguments to the logical conclusion. Most it seems would prefer not to ‘go there’. I’m able to, for reasons of planning, foresight and an ounce of luck.

I think we just saw the end of the renaissance that began in the middle ages. I think it finally is coming to an end. I think we have a new renaissance around the corner and just like the last we’re also emerging from the drudgery of a black death or plague that has inflicted and is yet to inflict more misery everywhere. A selfish age at the end wasn’t it?

I don’t think advertising is that important to me at the moment. I want to see the carnage before I go into how socialist media is likely to be part of the solution. We’re all in it together after all.


  1. a wonderful piece of writing Charlie. I'm going to go and plant some potatoes in the garden once the frost thaws :)

    on a more serious note, couldn't agree more on the barter front. to take the economy forward I reckon we need to start looking back a bit...

  2. Good for you Doug and thanks so much for the compliment. You know I've been envious of Neils chickens for a long long time now. But you know what. If I buy that old defunct chicken farm I know in Phrakhanong. I'll know where to go for advice. Social meeja? Luv it.

  3. Another great post, Charles. Agree with you on the strange logic going on at the moment that seems to believe that the solution to a problem created by huge amounts of over-leveraged borrowing is huge amounts of over-leveraged borrowing.

    Re the chicken advice - anytime fella. And Doug - also have a mean veg patch if you need some potato advice ;). It's the way forwards...

  4. A pity that so few can identify that human history repeats without fail. We're seeing the fall of an empiric type power and the effects are just beginning - the past is the future with the lights on. It's gonna be a bumpy fucking ride.

    Great post big C

  5. Top post my friend. And I must admit that i share your twisted optimism

    here are two random riffs

    1. Thinking about the timing of this meltdown from an environmental POV, i cannot avoid toying with the idea of a cosmic correction. It is almost as if the invisible hand of Gaia (See J. Lovelock)created this crisis for us because there was no other option for a change that will prevent us human being from making this place uninhabitable. The shift from the era of plenty to the era of just enough / scarcity can only do good to us on the long term. The developed world must go through a collective rehab from the frenzied consumption of recent years. Less production as well as less consumption is just what we need to learn to live our lives with.

    2. In principle, a world with less advertising sounds like a better world for me. I hope that the economic meltdown will put all of us in perspective so we can re-learn the essence of value. I hope that brands and companies will be forced to make better (read more sustainable, considerate, humane)products and services, rather than relying on clever marketing to help them sell more crap. If only 10% of marketing budgets will be shifted to improving customer service the world will be a better place.

    Umar Haque describe it so eloquently: "Yesterday's businesses were built on cash, factories, and IP - financial, physical, and intellectual capital. Next-generation businesses are built, instead, on human, social, natural, and cultural capital - to name just a few"

  6. Asi mate. Cosmic correction is exactly what I feel. Like FEEL. Crazy huh? Look forward to checking out the links and recommendations.

  7. saw this quote the other day by billy graham: "Comfort & Prosperity Have Never Enriched the World as Much as Adversity Has."
    on board w/your optimism despite all the shit falling around my little world. at casa de windo, we've been running as if we're on a 1-income household. motivation here is to save, protect ourselves. we've also found that we're good with this. we don't need to go out every weekend, buying new shit at the mall. consuming less is working for us. however, i'm still surprised to see so many new cars, SUVs driving around our hood. keep in mind, we're behind the orange curtain, where most folks hardly know the name of the town 20 miles away. that's not a joke. seriously met a person this weekend that did not know. sorry, i digress, point is, and it may sound "hippyish": is that it has to start w/ourselves being comfortable with who we are and what we have. seems like the old notion of "keeping of with the joneses" may get thrown out the window in the new economy. but there may still be the few, maybe the 3MM ppl living here in OC will continue driving the big cars and wearing the fancy watches to prove a point?

    another thought: bro of mine just got laid off from a giant fast food chain her in OC, that sells tacos is looking at a start-up. another left his cushy agency job and started-up his own shop. i've been talking to a few friends now that are finding their calling and taking a leap of faith with a start-up among friends and likeminded ppl all with same vision. they don't need to make the numbers or answer to a holding co. or create the next big idea that sweeps across the country and hits the evening news. they just want to do good shit and for clients that they believe in and be happy with it. that's what it's all about, isn't it? i admire these guys, got some balls and talent. got a couple more but, have to get back to day job cranking out stuff that really doesn't matter. ;)

  8. That Umair Haque link is a great one. There's another piece here which is in similar vain but worth checking out...

    Also rather like this older piece fom Andrew Zolli I came across the other day on "Business 3.0"...

  9. Great post Charlie.

    Someone (you know him too) told me today, "We don't want to be purists and change the world, we'd rather be backward and make money" Ofcourse, I got bit upset because I had spent a good part of an hour explaining the value of doing something with real purpose and meaning.
    Now after reading this post, I am reassured that there other social bees like you lot that will lead this new change in thinking.
    Bravo and may the positive force be with all.

  10. Good one Charlie. I just got back from seeing a film on social media which spoke about how crowdsourcing can change the world, if the government uses it well for example. That's what people are looking forward to. Advertising is old. Value is in.

  11. Definitely agree... don't know why people are trying to quickly move to fix or prevent things... these cycles are just that - cycles. It will get better, but not before it gets worse. Like always, sort of.

    I recently read this thing about Ithaca, NY using a local currency system to keep their mom and pop shops running... pretty awesome.

  12. An excellent piece, if you can get to the end without topping yourself. Socialist media, though? Don't you know what happens when you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao?

  13. As usual, this is a brilliant post.

    I've said it for quite a while that we are a bunch of 'champagne socialists' ... happy to shout down people and industry as long as it doesn't affect our own creature comforts.

    The knwoledge about the environment is at all time highs - so the fact that it continues to get worse is ultimate proof that we're either a bunch of liars or simply not doing enough to stem the tide ... or both.

    Given the economy is pants, environmental concerns are going to be put on the backburner - even though it means we'll possibly be in a place where we'll have credit availability but no where to spend it.

    It seems appropriate for me to be a blog parasite and remind people about my views on Mr Al Gore ... and 'celebrity alienation' which could be one obstacle to making things actually move in the right direction.

    Great post Charles, one day I'd like to think I could write like this but the liklihood of me living till I'm 2363 years of age is rather unlikely ...

  14. OK, OK. I get it. There's a lot of contradictions out there and everywhere you look, you see people jumping on the bandwagon of "global warning" and "green gimmicking."

    But bring it back home for a second: how many of us are doing anything about it? How many of us are just pointing fingers and continue with our daily lives? How long ago, or should I say, short while ago, have you purchased an item – be it clothing, or electronic gadget, or junk food? I think the answers are pretty clear.

    The reason we don't do anything about it is because we don't want to and we can't. We, as a species, excelled over others, is that we each carry out a special duty or expertise, and together we thrive as a population. So the same should happen to the global sustainability movement – we need specialists to produce recyclable/cars, clothes, food, whatever – and without producing any dirty bi-products...and the rest of us will continue to consume and get on with our lives.

    And we need to stop being narcissists and stop making copies of ourselves. Pro-sex, anti-breeding.

    - Tony Hong +

  15. Fucking great comment Tony. I'll write a managed population decline post just for you because I spent a lot of time getting to that tricky conclusion and even had the royal seal of approval from my political mentor in the States while over there in July. Took him a few days to come over to my way of thinking and he shouted at me when I said "SEE"!

    And for the record I do walk the walk on a low carbon lifestyle - maybe a few too many clothes but that's it. I'm very frugal on the things that matter. I love that word frugal.

    Nice to see you join in Tony.

  16. That's why they call them consumers.

  17. I don't John. But you know that.

    There's also a way forward. Makes sense no?

  18. Hey Charles,

    I loved Tony's comment. I had to laugh out loud, even.

    But at the same time I'm saddened. In a world where we have specialized everything (including meaning), are we capable of change?


  19. I believe we can Sean. I really do. I think we're capapbly of anything we set our minds too.

    Off the top of my head there's Transformation Design as a really powerful idea. Then there's this comment I left on Dave Trotts blog because I've no scruples about using propaganda to get the right things happening.

    What else?

    There's the sweet spot. Everybody is going to be broke soon. So that's a good time to set up the low carbon rule book. Timing couldn't be better.

    Point is Sean that I've thought these things through and I'm convinced there are dirty solutions. Unpleasant, hard and disruptive but a dirty solution is far superior to no solution.

    Tony ,I will write that population control post. Until such time as we can leave the planet for other resource rich planets, it's an immperative and shame on our spineless governments for not even talking about it.

  20. @windo You've got a brain so you've got a head start on many. Life is suffering.

    @Kedar We're one. Thanks bro.

    @Anjali I believe social media is our salvation. I need to write the origins of the internet fantasy post that's been in my head for quite some time. You're going to like it.

    @Johanna Great to see you drop by. It is cyclical. Nothing is permanent. That's the strongest fact of life anyone can learn. Try and check out the Rushkoff and Paterson blogs. They're worth the effort.

    @Tim Footman Just make sure you get the Marmite in my grubby mitts before you start talking about topping yourself :)

    @Patrick I'm flattered. Nobody listens to me in real life. I come across as a madman :)

    @Rob Campbell This blog wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for you. All posts are dedicated to Opinionated Sod. However I think now is the perfect time to create wealth in sustainability. Solar, recycling, wave, wind, slower lives, better quality, less travelling. It's the sweet spot. We wont get another chance to reengineer things.

    If we can make multi trillion dollar businesses out of war or television. We can make businesses out of anything we choose. Just need to set our minds to it.

    Social media is a really powerful tool to fix stuff...and yes we're all Champagne socialists. But there are few as down to earth as you.

    Hope we talk soon mate.

  21. "Less production as well as less consumption is just what we need to learn to live our lives with".

    The huge jump we need to take to live in a sustainable solar, tidal, wind-powered world cannot be taken unless the economy allows us to invest HEAVILY in the technology we need. Capturing alternative fuels is incredibly expensive and needs years of scientific groundwork that cannot be financed as well during a recession.

    The recession is an ill wind that blows no good to anyone - people or the environment. As soon as we come to terms with this predicament the better. Sure, we can all glow in a frugal love-in - and let's face it, it can be fun - but let's be realistic here.

    And contrary to much opinion, recession is not good for our mental states - it breeds competition, distrust, jealousy, actual hardship etc. Those talking about a return to basics and even happiness in times of adversity are in most cases those most shielded from the nasty end of the stick.

  22. @Harry It's very simple logic. The consumption bubble that got us into this predicament is not going to be solved by more consumption. Have you read the Onion's satirical piece on this?

  23. i d like to respond to Harry's comment somehow, even though he never asked me to do so ;) but it just got me thinking... i m pretty sure that ppl who, for example, have to move out of their $300,000 houses which they can no longer afford to pay monthly rates for, are not happy now. ppl who get layd off their jobs are neither...
    the whole lifestyle of buying and lending money led to this. obviously, this lifestyle is no longer a way that makes ppl happy. just not enough money around anymore to live life this way. well, maybe if the fed is lowering down to -0.25 to - 0.20 % one day... and i don t even want to think about inflation... if consumption and buying with money you don t actually have is not an opportunity anymore, what will it be that ppl want? will they be all bitter and sad that they cannot afford things anymore waiting for better days to come and get back to normal? i doubt it a bit that people become all jealous. doesn t it feel like everybody is suffering from the crisis? the media says so... what will ppl look for to replace the happiness they once felt when buying (vast amounts of) stuff they thought they had needed? that s the questions i m thinking about. and i do believe that ppl just want to be happy. because that s human. they will search for ways to get there after they ve recovered from the shock. ppl don t like to suffer. but while they do, they will question some things. they will not all come up with the exact same anwsers... and they will still have/want to buy. but i think that it s likely that they will become more critical in many ways about the things they buy... not only because of their financial situation, but because of environmental things too. i don t believe that everybody is all green out of a sudden. but even the political framework is shifting in this way. and the media is anyway... recession is actually good for the environment in terms of lowered co2 emissions... and i see other issues that i could weave into this ppl's critical thinking approach, but this is way too long already...
    just one more point about the energy issue. i agree on "unless the economy allows us to invest". or maybe until some corporations want to invest? i don t want to come up with the profit numbers of bp or exxon. we could get in doubt that there was some crisis in 2008... and i think investing is what a state should do during a recession. save money when there s a boom and invest when there s a recession... whatever is happening, there will be some change. and i don t think it s just getting back to normal. the longer the crisis lasts, the bigger the change.

  24. I get the feeling Harry is not happy Peggy. I'm sorry about that for him but when it comes to managing change. I've got deep scar tissue. This is all gravy.

    Besides the old way of doing things was shit.

    Get used to deflation too. Prices rise for a reason. That reason no longer exists.