Fed Cred Dead

strip-mall1gc2smFrom the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation September 21, 2015
 

The economy is a two-headed monster. One head is the trade in real goods and real services. The other head is the financialized traffic in swindles and frauds that surrounds banking. There is some deception and overlap about which is which. For instance so-called health care might be perceived as a real service. In fact, it’s a hostage racket, designed to victimize “patients” at their weakest, with a “protection” premium that easily runs to $12,000-a-year for a married couple, even when they aren’t sick, and vulnerable. Just see what happens if you go to an emergency room with an injury that requires six stitches. Next stop: re-po land.

Most of the remaining on-the-ground economy consists of people merely driving their cars absurd distances, burning gasoline, between exquisitely-tuned giant warehouse store operations that were designed to destroy local Main Street trade — and accomplished that, by the way, to the applause of the local citizens whose towns were destroyed (“We want bargain shopping!”).

Now, of course, even WalMart is looking over its shoulder at the collapse of the complex arrangements that allowed it to metastasize across North America like some cancerous fungus. Globalism is winding down as the gargantuan matrix of Ponzi schemes based on owed money dissolves debt by debt. It isn’t long before nobody is a credit-worthy borrower, and no transaction in real goods can be risked unless cash hits the barrelhead — which turns out to be a very awkward way of doing business.

It’s especially like this these days in the so-called “emerging markets” — e.g. places in the world with large populations of willing factory slaves. The traffic in shipping-out containers full of flat screen TVs (or shipping-in the raw materials to make them) won’t work very well without letters-of-credit, which are promises between banks to make sure that the stuff on the receiving end gets paid for. That becomes difficult when national currencies drop 3.5 percent in value one day and then 4 percent another day, and so on. An eight-year-old can figure out how that math works.

My new theory of history applies well to the macro situation: people do what they do because it seems like a good idea at the time.

For instance, a few decades ago, the suburban / “consumer” arrangement of daily life seemed like a good idea. You buy cheap land twenty-seven miles outside what used to be a functioning (now obsolete) city. Build lots and lots of houses out of cheap, shitty materials such as strand-board and vinyl, pave a lot of new roads, line many of them with even shittier strip-mall buildings and Big Box “power centers,” and there you have a wonderful basis for an economy. That was more or less the Ronald Reagan Utopia.

Now it’s all aging badly, fraying, too costly to fix and, increasingly, not worth scraping off the land and replacing with a new cheap, shitty building. The younger generation doesn’t even want to live in that suburban dystopia. They run shrieking from it to Brooklyn, or even downtown Troy, New York, up the Hudson River Valley. Alas, this younger generation has also been broadly victimized by the college loan racket — reinforced by the revised bankruptcy laws that make it impossible to ever write-off this sort of debt. When will they get political about it? Their debt loads will disfigure their lives as surely as a tour of duty in Vietnam would have forty years ago. Perhaps Siri has not informed them about this.

Last week was the watershed for central banking and for the illusion that the current disposition of things has a future. The Federal Reserve blinked on its long-touted Fed funds interest rate hike and chairperson Janet Yellen was left standing naked in the hot glare of her own carbonizing credibility, a pitiful larval creature, still maundering about “the data,” and “the median growth projection,” and other previously-owned figments spun out of the great PhD wonk machine in the Eccles Building.

The Federal Reserve itself is the victim du jour of its own grandiose fatuous fecklessness, in particular the idea that it could play a national economy like a three-button flugelhorn. What seemed like a good idea at the time when Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke stepped into the pilot house now just looks like the fraud of frauds: enabling corporations to borrow ever more money from the future to pretend that their balance sheets are sound. That scam has nowhere left to go, except into the black hole that has been waiting for it. All the Fed really has left is to destroy the value of the dollar (to save it! Just like Vietnam!).

This ought to be an interesting week in the financial markets as the players have had a long, anxious weekend to absorb the death of Fed cred. And October, too. Expect dramatic re-pricing. Sometime a few months down the line, financial markets will present a “relief rally.” Don’t get suckered on that one.

Meanwhile, what remains on the other head of this two-headed economy besides driving to-and-from the Walmart? Pornography? The tattoo industry? Meth and narcotics? Prostitution? Professional sports on the flat screen? Kim and Kanye? Grand theft auto? Do you really think Donald Trump can fix this?

 

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.

One Response to Fed Cred Dead

  • picking up on the last line—yes they do think Trump will fix this, because the more dire the situation, the more deperate people become to believe  anyone who tells them anything but the truth. Trump promises the return of the American Dream—folks like the sound of that. The majority are convinced that prosperity can be acheived by voting for it.

    OK—maybe not Trump this time, but fast forward 4 years and the situation is even worse, and an even wackier prospective POTUS shows up….what then??

    That the USA–along with most industrial nations—will reach economic meltdown is not in doubt. That means privation on a universal scale. That in turn will lead to civil disorder, which will feed on itself. Any head of state will have no option but to declare a state of emergency and martial law as the country begins to break up. Chances are your POTUS is going to be a godbotherer, it only takes a similarly minded senate and military, and in no time at all you have a theocratic fascist dictatorship—-not for the ''duration of any emergency"—but for always.

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