Chapter 13

On the Outside Looking In

Making the Move toward Prosperity

For us, it was like sitting on a sinking ship, waiting for it to go down.

—Scott and Mandy Harker, on why they left the United States for Brazil

The thought that haunts the imaginations of middle-class people in North America and throughout the developed world is the fear that the new normal living standard for middle-class jobs in the future will be normalized at the income and lifestyle of the middle-class Indian or Chinese. A frightening thought for Americans in particular.

The prospect of being reduced to the living standards of the Brazilian middle class would be somewhat less daunting. Brazil’s population of 203 million as of July 2011 and nominal per capita income of $12,917 (IMF 2011) are roughly those of the United States four decades ago. Since then, per capita income in the United States has soared, but the average income for males employed full time has dropped by $800.

This points toward the need to make some unsettling decisions. In a collapsing world, facing an energy transition, running away from home may be a rational response to an upheaval in prospects.


In his widely-hailed book, The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988), Joseph A. Tainter sketched out a thesis on the economics of problem solving. It is an argument with great importance for people in today’s circumstances, pointing toward some sobering conclusions that the mainstream media and most investment advisors have relegated ...

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