The Way Out

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Image: Anthony Freda

Image: Anthony Freda

Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation March 30, 2015

It’s not what most people think: a return to some hypothetical “normality,” with the ghost of Ronnie Reagan beaming down like a sun-god under his lopsided pompadour, and all the happy self-driving GM cars toodling back and forth from WalMart-to-home loaded to the scuppers with new electric pop-tart warmers and 3-D underwear printers. (Or drone deliveries of same from Amazon.com.)

I mean, surely the thinking folk out there must be asking themselves: what is the way out of this Federal Reserve three-card-monte, one-percenter-stuffing, so-called “economy,” and what is the destination of this society when that mendacious model for living fails?

I digress for a moment: there was a chap named Richard Duncan on the pod-waves this weekend (FSN Network) putting out the charming idea that quantitative easing (QE — governments “printing” money to buy their own bonds) had the effect of “cancelling debt” and that it could continue for decades to come. I don’t doubt that there are Federal Reserve officers who believe this. The part they leave out — and Mr. Duncan also left it out until pressed — is that there are consequences. Consult the operating manual of the universe, and you will find that there really is no free lunch or get-out-of-jail card.

The truth is, when you rig a money system with price interventions, distortions, and perversions, they will eventually express themselves in ways destructive to the system. In the present case of world-wide QE and central bank monkey business, these rackets are expressing themselves, finally, in wobbling currencies. In many nations, people are deeply unsure of what their money is worth, and how much it might be worth a month from now. This includes the USA, except for the moment our money is said to be magically appreciating in value compared to everyone else’s. Aren’t we special?

Get this: nothing is more hazardous than undermining people’s trust in their money.

All of this financial perfidy conceals the basic fact that the human race has reached the limits of techno-industrialism. There are too many people and not enough basic resources to grow more of them — oil, fishes, soil, ores, fertilizers — and there is no steady-state “solution” to keep that economy going. In other words, it must either grow or contract, and it can’t really grow anymore (despite the exertions of government statisticians), so the authorities are trying to provide a monetary illusion of growth, when instead we’re in contraction.

Yes, contraction. The way out is to get with the program, shed the dead-weight and go where reality wants to take you. In the USA that means do everything possible to quit supporting giant failing systems — Big Box shopping, mass motoring, GMO agribiz, TBTF banks — and get behind local Main Street integrated economies, walkable towns, regular railroads, smaller and more numerous farms, local medical clinic health care, artistry in public works, and community caretaking of the unfit. All this surely implies a reduced role for the national government, and maybe the states, too. You could call it a lower standard of living, or just a different way to live.

I don’t think we’ll go there via rational political discourse. The current instabilities around the world are so sinister that they are liable to lead to even more strenuous efforts at the top to pretend that everything’s working, and even war is one way to pretend you’re okay (and the “other guy” isn’t). Of course, war has already broken out, in the MidEast and Ukraine, and it has everything to do with the sequential failure of nations, in one way or another, to overcome the limits of techno-industrialism. America will be dragged kicking and screaming to the realization of what it needs to do. The 2016 election will be the convulsion point.

 


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

3 Responses to The Way Out

  • Greg says:

    “One of the problems with economics is that its practitioners preach a concentration on money, whereas money is the language rather than the substance of the real economy. Ultimately, the economy is – and always has been – a surplus energy equation, governed by the laws of thermodynamics, not those of the market.”

    Tullet Prebon – Perfect Storm

  • Doug says:

    I’m new to reading your articles and find them interesting and thought-provoking. Yeah, that contraction that you mention might be a collapse a la 2008/2009 due to high levels in debt in a number of countries and too high leverage at most large banks (read: Europe, China, etc). The next financial crisis seem likely to be triggered from abroad. We’re just one economic shock from contraction since “organic” growth might only be 1 to 2% — worldwide population growth plus productivity growth. I also have a theory that “excess” money is destined to go to “money heaven” as financial markets collapse. It just disappears! The future is probably revealed by preparations by Greece to nationalize banks and re-establish the drachma. Bank nationalizations in every European country is probably a foregone conclusion which may help mitigate a crisis, but will be another huge drag on the economy. OK, too much to say!!!

    It’s no wonder that every movie about the future depicts a totalitarian nightmare. If life imitates art, then we are in deep trouble.

  • Doug says:

    Here’s my own take which basically agrees with your analysis: http://gulfcoastcommentary.blogspot.com/2015/02/end-of-cheap-energy-and-peak-debt.html

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