Special Report: Peak Oil

Extremism and the Long Emergency

We need to consider the tendency toward anger and extremism if we want to have any hope of a peaceful stepping down of the carbon-intensive economy towards one that is more sustainable, and indeed more fair.

By Jason Allen
Published December 06, 2010

My wife was in the post office the other day, and was talking to her friend behind the counter who mentioned that her three children, who had all either just finished high school or university, had been unable to find work.

"What do you think the unemployment rate is for young people?" my wife asked when she got home.

On Friday, StatsCan came up with the answer - and frankly, it's not pretty.

It seems that 13.6 percent of people aged 15-24 are currently 'reporting' being unemployed. That rate dropped by 1.4 points from the previous month because of how many young people gave up looking for work.

This is made worse by the fact that this is only the reported rate. The 'reported' unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9 percent or so - depending on the month, but the actual rate, including discouraged workers is widely agreed to be closer to 17 percent.

So if the reported rate of youth unemployment in Canada is 13 percent give or take - what's the actual rate? 23 perent? 25 percent? It's a situation some observers are calling a 'powderkeg.'

The Lure of Extremism

Powderkeg may sound extreme, but there are three things young people have traditionally done when they found themselves without any short or medium-term hope for employment: they get angry, they get active, and they look for quick solutions.

Unfortunately, extremism offers (or claims to) all three.

Those of us who are aware of the impending downward-stepping of the industrial economy due to either the lack of affordable fossil fuels, damaging temperature increases, or some kind of sovereign debt default causing havoc on the bond market should be very, very nervous about this.

In the 1980s, rampant economic decline and some of Margaret Thatcher's most misguided policies gave rise to a violent and angry skinhead culture in the UK.

Most recently described in the brilliant movie (and soon to be TV show) This Is England, it is a tale of young people cut out from the labour force, cut out from having anything useful and productive to do with their lives, and turning to the simplistic solutions of skinhead fascism.

This is a tale we ignore at our peril.

Extremist Movements Today

Evidence of the shift towards extremism is already underway in economies that have been hit particularly hard by the great recession. From the Oath Keepers in the USA to the Issuikai in Japan, people are turning to over-simplified answers that fuel their latent rage - answers usually involving racism and exclusion.

The recent riots in France, and the near shutdown of the country due to the proposed raising of the retirement rate by two years were also inflamed mainly by youth and University students.

Why should they care? You may ask. They're 40 years away from retiring. The problem is not how far they are from retiring, but rather the fact that the longer their elder peers take to retire, the longer it takes to free up those jobs.

Apart from the usual satire about the situation, what is to be done?

Once again, I have more questions than answers on this, and none of the easy solutions (such as massive government spending programs) make much sense.

It certainly bears thinking about if we want to have any hope of a peaceful stepping down of the carbon-intensive economy towards one that is more sustainable, and indeed more fair.

This article was first published on Jason's website.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall neighbourhood. He currently sits on the Development Review Committee of the Kirkendall Neighborhood Association, and is also the association's social media and e-news coordinator. Jason is also a Scout Leader with the 47th Hamilton, where both of his sons are involved in Scouting while his wife gets some well deserved quiet time.


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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted December 06, 2010 at 17:58:13

RTH published three useful, contemplative articles today. Personally, and perhaps unusually, I have no 2 cents that can add to the sentiments expressed. I'll be contemplating and rereading these stories while struggling with similar issues in my own writings. Thanks to our authors.

It is instructive to compare these (along with Allen's previous piece on electricity) with today's Spectator. Which do commenters here think provides a citizen reader with the best guidance for next week, next month, next year and next decade?


Hmm, i wish i knew how to freeze today's Spec Headlines. Maybe someone knows how/ can post a proper link. No matter, probably not much different tomorrow or next year anyway! Which is why i gave up on MSM.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted December 06, 2010 at 22:09:11

I'm not so sure that Western civilization is in nearly as much trouble as you make it out to be, at least not due to resource depletion or pollution. The resilience you advocate is in fact a key feature of Western societies and it is one of the elements, along with work ethic, representative government, low levels of corruption, and other characteristics, that has served to make Western societies the ones that still enjoy the highest standards of living in the world.

If in years ahead we have to make do with less it will have less to do with oil scarcity and more to do with our ability - or inability - to compete with China and India. Our future prosperity and ability to provide for ourselves and our children has far more to do with higher education and innovation than it does with learning how to grow our own food or develop other, more practical skills.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2010 at 10:11:22

Adrian: here's something that supports your point above, from BBC 4.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2010 at 11:59:55

Hans Rosling has done some really impressive data analysis on changing global economics over time.

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By Alessandra (registered) | Posted December 07, 2010 at 12:52:33

As a 23rd year old post-grad student, I have shocked by the increase in unemployment among individuals my age and older. It is a sad and scary truth but the major shift in the economy and the reduced number of retirees has caused many young students coming out of college or university to have difficulty finding work. Although we are told that college and universities degree will become a great advantage to us, successfully acquiring a degree has not helped us to find jobs or careers. As a result of not being able to find long-term jobs, many students are forced to go back to school and add to their qualifications, but still there is no guarantee of finding a job once they are done. Spending more time and money on schooling has caused young people to get more into dept which can cause frustration, anger and even resentment. Parents are remaining longer in their careers while their kids are living longer in their homes.

Is there any hope for our generations future in the job market?


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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2010 at 13:25:46

I'm not so sure that Western civilization is in nearly as much trouble as you make it out to be, at least not due to resource depletion or pollution. The resilience you advocate is in fact a key feature of Western societies and it is one of the elements, along with work ethic, representative government, low levels of corruption, and other characteristics, that has served to make Western societies the ones that still enjoy the highest standards of living in the world.

As an anthropologist and a historian, I'd disagree. The resilience is certainly a key feature of many Western societies, but the same could just as easily be said of Africa, Asia or the Americas. Our living standards, though, are pretty clearly linked in large part to the few hundred years of global conquest undertaken by Western governments. And in that sense, you could also say the same of many African, Asian or American civilizations - most of which now lie in ruin.

Civilizations tend to follow relatively similar patterns of explosive growth and collapse, from the ancient cities of the Middle East to Rome, and then a few hundred years later, the major civilizations of the Americas such as the Maya or Anasazi, most of which saw major transformations around 900-1100 AD. In most of these cases, we don't even totally understand today what happened, or which of many worsening factors (population, water, land, social stratification, militarism etc) did it - only that in most cases, a century later, the most powerful cities were virtually abandoned. New centres emerged in some areas (the Mayans turned toward more compact, market-based cities, and never again had a God-King), in others, people returned to the "old ways" of hunting and gathering, with the help of some of the technologies brought by fleeing immigrants (ie: corn).

In almost every one of these cases, these great civilizations reached their peak in terms of things like territory, population and economics shortly before they faded back into the deserts and jungles. Does this sound familiar at all? I'm not saying we're doomed - only mortal. And that if we don't learn from the past, we're going to repeat it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2010 at 13:30:36

Possibly related.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-12-07 12:31:06

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2010 at 17:48:57

>> the longer their elder peers take to retire, the longer it takes to free up those jobs.

Anyone can find a job, as long the government eliminates price controls on labour. For example, if there was no minimum wage in Ontario, young people could choose to be unemployed and make zero dollars, or they could choose sell their labour to employers at a market rate. Like everything else we buy, ALL labour has some economic value and will be bought by employers, just so long as doing so makes a business more money than it costs.

The minimum wage law distorts the labour market because it attaches high wages to workers with low skills. Without the ability to make a profit of young people's labour, the only option businesses have is to not hire them at all. The result is higher unemployment amongst the low skilled, reduced output in the economy, reduced standard of living for society, reduced tax revenue and more kids hanging around.

All of these great things are due to the government thinking it can outsmart the laws of supply and demand by passing a law. Perhaps in addition to setting a minimum wage, they should also set a minimum unemployment rate and force businesses to hire people. If they are concerned about helping young people, why haven't they done that?

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted December 07, 2010 at 22:56:47

Alessandra - Thanks for your comment. It's exactly that feeling of frustration and hopelessness that I think needs to be the subject of serious public policy discussion.

And even if you had the option of selling your labour to the lowest bidder, the types of jobs that would be created, and the remuneration you would get would foster as much anger and resentment as being unemployed in the first place.

To my mind, the crisis of youth unemployment is on par with the massive disenfranchisement of black men in the U.S. It's a major social problem that nobody is really talking about.

And like I said, the solutions aren't clear cut. Massive job creation/spending programs are unsustainable and mandatory retirement would either be politically untenable, or plunge older workers into poverty at the other end of their lives.

I'm not sure what the answers are, but it's a policy debate that needs to happen before somebody comes along with a 'clear solution' that involves scapegoating a particular group and blaming them for the malaise. Many young people will be too smart to fall for that particular brand of idiocy, but if enough are swayed, it could be the recipe for serious social conflict.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted December 08, 2010 at 00:21:18

Interesting comments/voting. Adrian's sunny comment got upvoted, as did Alessandra's darker one. Browsing around Adrian's website gives an idea of why a youthful can-do optimism that ignores problems is entirely understandable, even healthy, just as it undermines political will necessary to overcome the problems Undustrial describes. Despair, pessimism, anger provide the juice needed for political action. Criticism, even if insulting or negative, helps to provide clarity as to what the problem actually is. Even our board Libertarian has a useful perspective. How useful has yet to be seen but the bottom of this meltdown is nowhere near. Soros talks about imbalances that must be rectified. But as long as folks continue business/entertainments as usual, MSM ignores reality, manipulates the truth and their readers keep lapping it up, the debate is stilted and Jason's great extreemism worry remains valid. In this debate, i believe downvoting is for the closed minded.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 08, 2010 at 11:01:52

And this is exactly what we need, Bob. To discuss this stuff. The problem is that the "status-quo" option is extreme and militant. As resources decline, this will only get worse.

I don't like the term "Extremist" because it's a relative view. Everything is extreme compared to the status quo somewhere. There are fundamentalist Quakers, Buddhist monastics with very "extreme" views, but in real terms they are far more peaceful and moderate than those of most centrist liberals.

What we need to do is separate radical and simply extremist perspectives. Radicals, such as those of myself, or A Smith, form coherent sets of solutions based on deeply questioning our basic premises. Others, especially militant and authoritarian ideologies like Fascism simply promise to solve everyone's problems through absolute power over all of us. The next step, though, is far more difficult - comparing these extreme (and often rather sketchy) viewpoints to more traditional status-quo viewpoints of Liberals and Conservatives.

Though I thoroughly disagree with A Smith's perspectives, I deeply appreciate them. The libertarian right has proposed a set of policies based on logic rather than power. And because of people like the Mises institute or Taxpayers Federation, I've learned far more about classical economics than I ever had from the conflicting and self-serving drivel put out by the Business community. Understanding the world means understanding many perspectives, how they overlap, and what, which is valuable, to take from each. From Karl Marx to Noam Chomsky, Adam Smith has a pretty good reputation with anti-capitalists, and that says something very interesting.

I'd highly reccomend the work of Kevin Carson and the Centre for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) to more than a couple people on here, especially A Smith as they present a very up-to date economic vision of an anarchist society based on free markets, collective ownership, networking, and decentralized production.They talk a lot about intellectual property and the open source movement, and make a very convincing argument that things like patents cost far more money than they make. And they're not afraid to pull punches against the left or right.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2010 at 13:30:11

Jason's article and Undustrial's comment inspired my riffoff, an answer of sorts to part of Jason's essential question. Enjoy


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By alan (anonymous) | Posted December 26, 2010 at 03:16:33

Why lump in the Oathkeepers with this article? What is so extreme about them? That they pledge to uphold their oaths to protect the Constitution? What is so extreme about that? Perhaps the author is the extremist, and perhaps the author should have their ethics evaluated, as he seems to believe that those who keep their oaths are somehow extremists. On that basis, I would entrust my life and the lives of my family members with the Oathkeepers before I entrusted the same to some unethical extremist by the name of Jason Allen.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted December 31, 2010 at 01:24:58

I have a question.
At a time when we (Banks & Governments) are discouraging people who are not in a position to pay back a large debt, why are we increasing University tuition frequently, & providing no incentive to middle or lower income students other than:'Take out a huge student loan'-?
I don't know if it's still the case, due to the European economic crisis, but as far as i know, Ireland is still paying tuition to any & all students who have good marks & a desire to get a post secondary education. It's called investing in the future of your Country.
I think it's criminal the way this country squanders intellect, & ability. Pretty soon, post secondary education will once again be restricted to the wealthy. If this doesn't create a nasty situation of those born to win & those born to lose, I don't know what will. Hide Bound Class Society -here we go again!

A second question would be: "Why do banks offer high school students, immediately on graduation (with no job or means of support) Credit Cards?"
My daughter was sent many notices from the bank & was requested by tellers on many occasions to have a credit card, which she declined, because at the time, she had no job & no means of repaying the credit. After she had been employed at a full time job at the same place for 3 years, she re-applied several times, & was denied each & every time.
How does that make any sense? We want to start a young person's lives in debt up to the ears, with both with student loans & credit cards? Maybe there will be a job out there for them in their chosen field, or maybe not. That's a major gamble, & it's not one that everyone is prepared to take.

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By Willy Wonk (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2011 at 13:12:24

"So if the reported rate of youth unemployment in Canada is 13 percent give or take - what's the actual rate? 23 perent? 25 percent?"

I think it hit 16.3 per cent during the summer of 2009. But while you have a point, the granular detail that would reveal true numbers has always been elusive. Even so, 13-17% youth unemployment is not as entirely novel.

Ontario’s unemployment rate among youths (15-24):

1991: 14.9%
1992: 17.3%
1993: 17.4%
1994: 15.5%
1995: 14.5%
1996: 14.9%
1997: 17.3%
1998: 14.4%
1999: 13.1%

Canada’s unemployment rate among youths (15-24):

1991: 15.8%
1992: 17.1%
1993: 17.1%
1994: 15.8%
1995: 14.7%
1996: 15.4%
1997: 16.2%
1998: 15.2%
1999: 14.0%

Source: Youth Unemployment In Canada

http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection-R/LoPBdP/CIR/824-e.htm#Table 1(txt)

Workforce participation among Ontario's youth is apparently 58%, which is around 10% lower than compared to the adult population (but considerably better than the approximately 49% participation among their counterparts in the United States). What's less talked-about is the decline in the average youth's working week. In October 2009, it was pegged at 23.4 hours.


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By Willy Wonk (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2011 at 14:01:29 in reply to Comment 68426

Youth Employment 1977-2009:


Canada’s unemployment rate among youths (15-24):

2000: 12.7%
2001: 12.9%
2002: 13.6%
2003: 13.6%
2004: 13.4%
2005: 12.4%
2006: 11.6%
2007: 11.2%
2008: 11.6%
2009: 15.3%
2010: 14.8%

Unemployment rate among youths in 2010 Ontario was apparently 17.2%.

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By Willy Wonk (anonymous) | Posted August 29, 2011 at 16:32:13 in reply to Comment 68428

It's a finite window, but for sake of comparison, here are Hamilton’s youth unemployment figures from the Ontario Federation of Labour report "Fundamentally Unsound: Manufacturing Job Losses and Labour Market Conditions in Hamilton":

2005: 10.6%
2006: 14.6%
2007: 12.4%
2008: 12.9%


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By Willy Wonk (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2011 at 14:02:54 in reply to Comment 68428

Mouse flinch. Initial link should be prefaced with: "Unemployment Rate for Students and Non-Students, Ages 15-24, July, 1977-2009, Unadjusted for Seasonality"

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By Willy Wonk (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2011 at 13:38:41


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