by James Howard Kunstler
Originally posted November 30, 2009
“While Dubai is not big enough to set off financial repercussions outside the Middle East, the main fear is that investors could flee risky markets all at once in search of safer havens for their money.” – The NYT, Vikas Bajaj and Graham Bowley, reporting.
APART FROM THE STRONG SELF-CONTRADICTION in this quote from The New York Times, you have to love the fatuous ‘it’s all good’ self-assurance where global banking is concerned. No problemo y’all! A mere overdraft incident, a cash-flow hiccup… and yet “the main fear” [among whom?] is that investors [where and in what? Like, everywhere?] could flee risky markets all at once in search of safer havens for their money [WTF?]. Gosh, well, as long as they don’t flee the New York Stock Exchange, the Hang Seng, the FTSE…. And, hey, do you suppose anybody bought any credit default swap “insurance” on the deals that financed scores and scores of super-giant condominium skyscrapers and hotels amounting to the greatest spec construction folly in the history of the world?
Snapshots of the stupid fucking work-in-progress have been circulating around the Internet for five years, the disbelief was so monumental. I confess, when I first saw the Palm Island I was impressed at what a superb air-strike target it presented. And then, when the real estate assemblage of artificial islands arranged like a map-of-the-world came along, I could only imagine the megalomanical glee rising in the throat of a jet bomber pilot (nationality unspecified) as he closed in on it.
Whom the gods would punish, they first make completely crazy. That includes us, here in the USA, by the way, but pound-for-pound Dubai is the current champeen. The monstrosity they built in their waterless convection-oven of a city-state makes Las Vegas look like a mere strip mall in comparison. Throw in a few other affronts to nature, such as an indoor ski “mountain,” a beach cooled by an under-the-sand refrigerated pipe network, golf courses that have to be hosed down with acre-feet of desalinated sea-water, and forget about “the gods” – one begins to see the monotheistic hand of “Old Scratch” himself working the levers of the construction cranes out there.
Frankly, I have no idea whether the Dubai fiasco will send seismic ripples thundering through a global banking establishment that is already crippled in more ways than you can count. But it does remind those in thrall to the dazzlement of “green shoots” that debt comes a’creeping, and runs so far, deep, and wide through the broken system of mutual assurances constituting international finance, that Ben Bernanke and his counterparts in central banks ’round the world could drop helicopter loads of paper cash on every rooftop, intersection, parking lot, field, forest, and camel raceway and never make a dent in the fatal web of false obligations we have woven for ourselves.
But you do wonder what was going through their minds as this ridiculous organism took shape on the horn of the Persian Gulf, just as one wonders at loathsome aspirations that Las Vegas presents in our own so-called culture – essentially a wickedness that exceeds the wildest fantasies of the most demented clergymen, be they closeted sado-masochistic Southern Baptist teleministers, Vatican-approved child molesters, or mullahs dispatching suicide bombers to the marketplaces frequented by housewives and their children.
Lately, the much-repeated aphorism has circulated around the Web that civilizations build their most extreme monuments at the very moment of collapse. If this is true – and it is hard to argue with the historical record – then it’s time to organize a new Third Party for the 2012 election with Jared Diamond and Cormac McCarthy heading the national ticket (and Roland Emmerich for EPA chief). By then, if we don’t stop lying to ourselves about the destruction we have induced, every other suit-and-tie wearing authority figure in America, from the county clerk to Barack Obama, will take on the aura of the archetypal Evil Clown from a Stephen King yarn. Imagine living in a country where absolutely nobody in a leadership position is credible. This is the kind of country we’re becoming and it will not keep running that way for long.
The markets will begin digesting the Dubai news in earnest today, making for a holiday season of possibly momentous thrills-and-chills. The big debate going into Thanksgiving was whether the dollar would continue its downward trajectory, leading to some kind of currency failure, hyper-inflation, take your pick… or turn briskly around as investors bailed out of risk vehicles for the conventional safe-haven paper parking lot of US Treasuries. This debate between the inflationists and deflationists has defied resolution all year. Personally, I side with the deflationistas these days, though I believe our ultimate destination, in a year or so, is destruction of the dollar.
In keeping with the wickedness theme, isn’t it interesting that our society now vests all its hopes and wishes for thriving –indeed survival! – on a yearly ceremony we have come to call Black Friday. I was raised in a religion-free household, but I confess the signs are just everywhere that we’ve taken some turn to the Dark Side. I’m a little surprised that “consumers” were not caught on video wringing the necks of chickens in the WalMart parking lots the other day in the hopes of winning supernatural favor for that race down the aisle to the flat-screen TV loss leaders. The cinemas are full of blood-sucking teenagers. Grown men swarm in the unemployment offices wearing sideways hats and butt-crack trousers. Why not just tattoo a message on your forehead that says: “Moron For Hire”?