Originally posted November 23, 2009
HOW INFANTILE IS AMERICAN SOCIETY? Last night’s CBS “Business Update” (in the midst of its “60 Minutes” program) featured three items: 1.) The New Moon teen vampire movie led the weekend box-office receipts; 2.) Cadbury shares hit an all-time high; 3.) Michael Jackson’s rhinestone-studded white glove sold at auction for $350,000. Some in-house CBS-News producer is responsible for this fucking nonsense. How does he or she keep her job? Is there no adult supervision at the network?
Meanwhile, over at The New York Times this morning, Paul “Nobel Prize” Krugman writes:
“Most economists I talk to believe that the big risk to recovery comes from the inadequacy of government efforts; the stimulus was too small, and it will fade out next year, while high unemployment is undermining both consumer and business confidence.”
Disclosure: I’m not one of the economists that Mr. Krugman talks to (nor am I an economist). But it’s sure interesting to know that the ones palavering with Mr. Krugman imagine that that the US can possibly return to an economy based on the fraudulent securitization of reckless debt. Does Mr. Krugman think that the production housing industry can resume paving over the nether exurbs with half-million-dollar houses (to be bought with no money down loans by the sheet-rockers working inside them)?
Does he think all those people receiving cancellation notices from their credit card issuers are in a position to flash their plastic at the Gallerias this Friday? Or ever will be again? Is he perhaps misusing the term “recovery?” After all, that is generally taken to mean resuming a prior state, which is, in turn, presumed to be a healthy prior state. Is that what the economy of the past decade was? And, incidentally, what exactly is a “consumer?” And why, at the highest levels of journalism in this land, do we refer to citizens that way? As if the American people have no other purpose except to buy things? Or is that the only way an “economist” can imagine them?
I’m sorry to burden the reader with so many questions, but the idiots running the mainstream news media in this land are not doing it and somebody has to.
If a “recovery” is not in the cards, then what exactly is going on out there?
What’s going on in the US economy is a slow-motion convulsion from which we will emerge as a very different nation with a different economy. The wild irresponsibility of the media in pretending otherwise is only going to make the convulsion worse, more painful, more socially and politically destructive. The convulsion can be described with precision as one of compressive contraction.
Historic circumstances are requiring us to change our behavior, to make new arrangements for everyday life in all the major particulars: capital accumulation and deployment; food production; commerce; habitation; transport; education; and health care. These new arrangements must be organized at a smaller and finer scale, and on a much more local basis.
The main “historic circumstance” mandating these changes goes under the heading of “peak oil.” We’ve come to the end of our ability in this world to increase energy inputs to the global economy. The routine “growth” in industrial activity and production that has been the basis of our financial arrangements for 200-odd years is no longer possible. Offsetting this decline in oil energy “input” with “alt.energy” is a dangerous fantasy because it distracts us from the urgent task of making new arrangements for trade, food production, et cetera – the very things that would provide jobs and social roles for our citizens in the future.
We are seeing a comprehensive failure of leadership in every sector and every level of American life – in politics, business, banking, education, news media, medicine, and the clergy. All are determined to pretend that we can somehow continue the habits and behaviors of the pre peak oil era. They are all unwilling to face reality, and are all engaged in mutually supporting each other’s dangerous fantasies.
If we don’t attend to the transformation of American life by downscaling our activities and changing the way they are carried out, and re-localizing them, we will see our society disintegrate – and I use the word “dis-integrate” with purposeful precision. Everything will come apart – our political arrangements, our households, our health and well-being.
At the moment, banking is disintegrating. It’s happening because the end of regular, predictable, cyclical, industrial growth means the end of our ability to generate credit without limits, and in fact we passed this point by stealth some time ago leaving the banks in “Wile E. Coyote” suspension above an abyss, where they have lately been joined by government at all levels and the indebted citizens of the land. The profound nausea spreading through the offices of America is the somatic recognition of exactly where we are in all this: off the cliff.
It’s important to remind readers that so-called “capitalism” is not to blame. Capitalism is not an ideology. It refers to a set of laws governing the disposition of surplus wealth. There is going to be surplus wealth somewhere in the years ahead, even if our living standards fall substantially, even under the strictures of peak oil. All the communist experiments of the 20th century produced some kind of surplus wealth. All of them were subject to the phenomenon of compound interest. What matters in the disposition of capital are the rules created for accumulating and deploying it.
In the USA the past two decades, we ignored the rules, repealed some of the critical laws, and failed to enforce the existing ones so that, when faced by the historic circumstances of peak oil, we allowed fraud and swindling to run wild – just at the moment when we should have taken the most care. That is why our money system ran off the rails.
We’re now seeing worldwide a kind of race between the assertion of peak oil and the failures of capital management as to which will provoke a widespread convulsion first. They are obviously related and whichever gets us in the most trouble fastest, our destination is the same: the absolute necessity to reorganize how we live. Among the many elements of this is the fact that “globalism,” in the Thomas Friedman sense of the word, is over. The urgent need to re-localize economies makes this self-evident. As a practical matter for us, this means committing to import replacement – making things we need in the US, probably much more regionally. “Globalism” now joins the many other fantasies that we can no longer indulge in.
At the moment, going into Thanksgiving 2009, America’s leadership has dedicated itself to the worst action it could take under the circumstances: a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. This is what’s embodied in the foolish term “recovery.” The way we try to explain things to ourselves matters, if we don’t want to be crushed by history. Go back to the top of this blog and look at the things we pay attention to. Aren’t you ashamed?