The whole economy isn’t going to just disappear

Lots of us in the collapse-focused groups are still maybe assuming that there’s going to suddenly be some abrupt collapse, after which everything will instantly be super bare-bones hardscrabble agrarian. But I really just don’t see that happening.

Periodically, people will make a post asking the question of which occupations will be considered essential. Most people tend to answer things related to growing food and nothing else. Well, some solar panels thrown in there.

But: A lot of the things we assume are just going to disappear and be bombed into the Stone Age will actually be around for quite a while, albeit in smaller and or spotty form.

Bicycle repair, small engine repair — yes there will still be small engines for a while — laundry, mending, counseling, legal — yes there will still be at least some of our existing legal system for a while, and some form of legal system will always be around …

Transport for both cargo and humans — either via a few available cars / buses or by pedicab or sailpower or handcart or what have you. Boat pilots (oars, sail, small motor) etc. will be needed.

Carpentry, building repair

Earthworks, landscaping — for water harvesting etc.

Waste management; sanitation. Many roles here, including various operations related to humanure composting. As someone in one of the groups pointed out, collecting pee and poo could become a full-time occupation that somebody would be happy to do. (I’ve done it at festivals; it’s actually a fine occupation.) Even just making/gathering the cover material (by finely grinding leaves or other materials, or collecting already-finely-broken-down materials such as oak leaf litter) could easily be a full-time occupation.

Engineering (someone’s gotta figure out how to rig up that bicycle-powered blender, make a radio out of a coconut à la Gilligans Island, optimize the solar cooking & distillation equipment, harvest methane from landfills which aren’t going to just disappear, etc.)


Weaving baskets, bags, and other necessary containers from locally available grasses etc. (Including from locally available plastic bags and other trash that are not just going to disappear)

Cooking, fermenting, drying food — not everybody knows how to do these things or wants to; and some people will be doing the other things that those other people can’t or don’t want to do.

Shoe repair

Trade, logistics, storage (middleman depot for “stuff”)

Speaking of stuff, our huge inventory of people’s stored furniture, excess clothing, and other stuff is also not just going to disappear. To make optimum use of it and provide for people’s needs, we’ll need lots of “crafty” people who know how to make everyday necessary items out of old stuff. Repurposing, upcycling.

Conflict resolution, mediation – and there will still be some kind of enforcement of public peace & order for a while even if it’s only at a neighborhood level in some places

Archives, historian


Arts of all kinds such as storytelling, decorating, singing, performing will always be needed! Even the most seemingly hand-to-mouth societies have always seemed to have the arts in some form. I think the arts don’t seem to get enough credit in industrial capitalist society. I think they are actually necessary to our survival as a species.

Brewer, distiller, making use of locally grown plants

Proprietor/tender of pub, bar, coffee/tea house. Yes, the neighborhood public gathering-spot will continue to be necessary, maybe even more necessary than ever. Granted, in many traditional communities these roles this role is filled by a rotating cast of volunteers from the community. But at least one person could probably have an occupation of it and would be allowed to live on the premises in exchange for keeping the place swept and cleaned, washing dishes, maybe tending a small culinary/medicinal garden etc.

And speaking of medicinal, some sort of doctors or other healers will always be needed.

Teachers, educators

Scientists and researchers will always be needed; this need isn’t going to just disappear.

People with the soft skills and hard skills to direct unskilled workers; oversee a complex job; delegate tasks; know people’s skills and where they are best served

Counseling. Emotional regulation, mindfulness, inner resilience are going to become only more and more essential to our survival, both individually and collectively.

Spiritual guides; ceremony officiants

There will still surely be some kind of money and banking. Even time-banking requires management too.

etc etc etc

Even just within the category of growing food, there will be so many different occupations. Some people will be researching plant genetics and maintaining a local database of what varieties work best in the bioregion, some will be hauling manure to the gardens, some will be planting seeds, some will be harvesting, some will be taking care of trees …

One comment someone made that echoes a thought I have often had, is that we can probably get a lot of clues from the list of guilds and classic apprenticeships from a few hundred years ago. Or maybe even just a hundred years.

Predicting the future is hard, said Barbie. And it’s just one more way that humans try to control things. Me included.

Use whatever you feel is empowering. Whatever helps you keep moving forward and planning for a future that we really can’t plan for. I do really want to encourage people to see that there will always exist many different occupations. The way things are right now, it feels like a lot of people are assuming that everybody who doesn’t have their own private food forest and a green thumb is going to be immediately rendered useless to society and starve.

The thing that will see us through is a determination to not lose our humanity, including fundamental values of compassion, ability/willingness to cooperate.

In a post-collapse economy, it is less and less likely that any human beings will be sidelined. From tiny children to the elderly, all will be involved and needed and valued. We will really respect each other more. I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve been in life, from a personal-finance level to a community economics level: The most cold, lifeless, inhumane atmosphere prevails in the “nice” neighborhoods where people don’t need their neighbors. It tends to happen that when people actually need each other, we become more humanly decent toward each other.

PS. I’ve said it in various ways before, and I’ll say it again here now: Those of us who have the leeway to do so, it would behoove us right now to transition into whatever occupation(s) we envision having post- collapse. (I’m pretty much doing mine, though I imagine the mix might change.) The truth is, whatever occupation it is, is needed right now even if it’s not compensated financially. Obviously we all have to make a living, but to the extent that we can minimize our overhead expenses right now (“Reduce your need to earn,” as we learned on day 1 of my first permaculture design certificate course back in 2005), we will have leeway to pursue occupations that are currently unpaid or minimally paid but are nonetheless necessary. (Even if we continue to work a few hours a week in the conventional economy, or take the occasional conventional-economy gig, to support our transition.) By decisively embarking on this transition we will benefit ourselves for sure, but also likely benefit society every bit as much. Building skill base, emotional resiliency, and so on will help to soften the collective landing.

By the way, social skills, just plain connecting and getting along with people, are every bit as important, if not more, than what we think of as “practical skills.” People who have never been economically advantaged to the point where they have the “luxury” of not needing their neighbors, will be better off than those who have become accustomed to (the illusion of) not needing community.

Also, I strongly suspect that traditional societies are and will be a lot better off than the Global North. “Collapse” is the collapse of excessively complex, petro-dependent society. And when we collapse, we’ll no longer be standing on their necks. (Within the Global North, some scattered pockets where people still know how to “do community” will be relatively better off. These include some rural and some urban communities.)

Further exploration:

• “Upskilling for post-growth futures, together“; Donnie Maclurcan on ” … The above ‘kitchen sink’ list appears, at times, focused on individualistic approaches to self-sufficiency that are more about surviving than thriving. Yet resilient leadership has little to do with creating bullet-proof, invincible fortresses of individuals. It’s more about engaging with others in vulnerable ways that drive human connection.”

• Article includes a link to the Post Growth Institute, “an international, not for profit organization working to enable collective wellbeing within ecological limits.”

• This post I wrote a while back. “Climate doomerism is a rich white Boomer thing.”