Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Remnant, the Pareto Principle and You

This week's theme: Survival +

Frequent contributor U. Doran sent in a link to this fascinating essay, which was published in the depths (Year 7) of the Great Depression.

Isaiah's Job by Albert Jay Nock (from The Atlantic Monthly, 1936)

"In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet (Isaiah) to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are." He said, "Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."

Mr. Doran concluded:
Yourself, Mish, Michael Panzer, et al, are perhaps well compared to Isaiah serving the "Remnant". Seems to be a valid view to me.

It is flattering indeed to be placed in the company of Mish and Michael Panzner (Financial Armageddon) --not to mention many other worthy prophet-bloggers such as Karl Denninger (Market Ticker) (see right sidebar for more). Whether I deserve the accolades I leave to you, but as a group, you the readers and contributors are indeed deserving.

Let's follow up on this notion of "Remnant" by invoking the Pareto Principle.

If the parameters in the Pareto distribution are suitably chosen, then one would have not only 80% of effects coming from 20% of causes, but also 80% of that top 80% of effects coming from 20% of that top 20% of causes, and so on (80% of 80% is 64%; 20% of 20% is 4%, so this implies a "64-4 law"). "

This suggests that a mere 4% of the 300 million Americans could influence 192 million of their fellow citizens. Since children and the very elderly generally wield lower influence than those adults of working and child-bearing age, let's subtract the 60 million Americans under 14 years of age and the 18 million over 75 years of age: Annual Estimates of the Population by Sex and Five-Year Age Groups for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2007 (U.S. census Bureau)

That leaves about 220 million Americans between 14 and 75 years of age. 4% of that number is 8.8 million. So the critical number for the Remnant in the U.S. appears to be about 9 million people.

In other words, when 9 million people start leading (4%), then 140 million (64%) will follow. Once those 150 million are moving in the same direction, then they will collectively be an irresistable force for positive change.

As the essay so brilliantly describes, members of the Remnant are not on the pulpit or writing for the Mainstream Media; they are unpublicized, unnoticed, perhaps viewed as outsiders by those around them, perhaps not. But their influence is generated by their action and example, not preaching or cajoling.

I believe most of you are in the Remnant simply by virtue of being part of this little (unpublicized, zero-marketing budget) online community of readers, contributors and correspondents. (Currently over 50,000 unique visitors a month and about 120,000 visits a month. I think Mish receives over a million visits a month. Good on ya, Mish!)

Many of you are doing real work in the real world. Don E. raises chickens in Maine, David V. has Yukon gold potatoes in the ground up north, and Noah Cicero is pursuing permaculture in Ohio. (Note on gender: many other readers doing similar work happen to be female, for instance, Freeacre, who we'll hear from in a moment.)

Here is Noah's essay, in case you missed it. The Power of Eight and Three (Reinventing our Native Cuisine) (Noah Cicero, June 23, 2008).

On the financial front, frequent contributor Harun I. has written about how to hedge yourself against various financial risks, and about becoming a more successful investor--nost recently in this essay The Principles of Trading Also Apply to Life (Harun I., June 19, 2008)

If you glance through the 2008 and 2007 Readers Journal archives, you will find dozens of amazing essays by readers who to the best of my knowledge do not occupy positions of influence in government or the media (except for Protagoras).

Given the government's abysmal non-response to the growing financial and energy crises (for instance, Oil Woes Fail to Stir Leadership in Congress WSJ), then I conclude the 9 million will have to lead government, not vice versa.

Note that the Remnant is not enaged in any one pursuit; smart people are just doing what they think is right and good, which includes being skeptical of the received "wisdom" of the media and government pronouncements/propaganda, trying to avoid the financial vortex which is pulling down the non-elites (and maybe a few elites, too), living lighter, cheaper, better lifestyles away from the stomping masses of the Consumption Is Our True God mainstream, working to improve the soil of a patch of earth, and a thousand other projects and interests.

If anything characterizes the Remnant, it is skepticism, a disdain for pomp and aggrandizement, and an awareness that doing with less is actually a happier, more fulfilling life than Always Chasing Bigger and More in the Public Eye.

For one example of how this works--first at the local level, which then influences the region, then the state and eventually the nation--let's turn to Freeacre in Oregon:

"It's nice to read your essay on permaculture and community gardening. I forwarded it to our city manager. Last week I attended a town meeting where we were to pick some goals and prioritize them, etc. I wrote down that I'd like to see our community gear up for economic collapse by localizing our food supply and ride sharing, etc, to help people on their commutes to work. I suggested community gardens, a tool bank, etc. Surprisingly, a bunch of people agreed with me and put me on a committee to hire the next city planner! So, something must be changing in the popular consciousness... (emphasis added, CHS)

We live in Central Oregon at 4,200 ft. altitude. Our garden is situated on 30 ft. of volcanic ash. We have almost no organic stuff in the "soil" except pine needles, which are acidic. No worms - they would starve to death. And, you can only count on 30 nights a year that don't freeze. To say the least, it is tough to grow stuff here. We have to heat our greenhouse and cover our garden with thermal blankets at night. And, water frequently because it is also a desert.

But, despite that, we grew almost all of the vegetables that we ate last fall and winter. We have great luck with snow peas, Chinese peas, snap peas, carrots, beets, lettuce, onions, garlic, kale, and Swiss Chard outside, and tomatoes, summer squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and green peppers in a little greenhouse.

What is also a great help is chickens. We love our chickens. They give us great eggs and are very fun and relaxing to observe and live with. I would never have believed that I could look forward to my edition of "Backyard Poultry" as much as I used to like to read "Newsweek." What a laugh.
When the trucks stop rolling, we will probably start to keep rabbits, too, for protein. I can't eat a lot of carbs. Bad for me. Maybe even guinea pigs to feed to the dog. Sounds horrible, doesn't it? But, we've got a half St. Bernard/half Tibetan Mastiff. They can't eat dandelions.

We need to re-think so much. Right now, I'm looking into where the hand pumps went that the state parks used to have, since they've been replaced with electric ones. There must be a pile of them somewhere. If (when) the electricity fails, it's going to be hell getting water from the well without a hand pump - in the winter.

Don E. recently checked in with this report from Maine:

I have looked about me here in Maine and wondered what my tribe will be. i agree that they will emerge. we joined mofga, the oldest organization in the country for organic living, and in surveying what their network looks like maine comes off as a very sane place. redneck to a large part, but also a lot of industrious hippy-types raising goats and crops. a very interesting place. the watchword seems to be 'lisa'; low impact sustainable agriculture. it really is amazing how big the movement to grow local food without chemicals is in this state. my hope, slightly tongue in cheek, is that new hampster, vermont and maine will break off into a new nation with a regional gov't that looks more toward canada than south. "

Thank you, U. Doran, Freeacre and Don, for this important topic and these "on the ground" reports. Also, thank you, Stephen D., for recommending Reinventing Collapse, yesterday's topic. Good on ya all.

Apropos healthy skepticism, here is my short dismantling of the ceaseless MSM propaganda on how horribly unaffordable food is in the U.S. and how if you're poor then fast-food is your cheapest source of "nourishment"-- posted in What's For Dinner at Your House:
CHS kitchen-test note on Charros-Black Bean Chili: I bought the ingredients at one of the local "Mexican" markets which cater to the Hispanic population. The total cost was:
1 pound black beans: $1.19
2 medium onions: $ .36 ($.33/pound)
garlic: $ .15 (5 heads for $1.30)jalapeno chiles: $ .20
1 can tomatoes: $1.00
oil, cilantro, etc.: about $ .30
Total: $3.20

For 6 servings, that's $.53/serving. Add $2 for 4 dozen tortillas, slice up six medium raw carrots (12 oz.) for crunch and vitamins, and that brings it up to $5.60 or $ .93/serving (even less if you get 8 servings).

If you wanted to add a pound of meat, and you buy on sale, then add another $3.40 or so for either beef (lean cut) or ground turkey. That boosts the cost to about $9.00 or $1.50 per serving for a hearty, protein- and fiber-rich meal.

Compare that to the cost of a supposedly "cheap" (and horribly unhealthy) fast-food "value" meal of burger, fries and a sugar-bomb soda for six: in California, over $30. And yet all we hear is how "poor people" (like me?) "can't afford healthy food." What rot! 93 cents beats the heck out of any fast-food garbage, it's easy to make and the ingredients are readily available virtually anywhere.


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