James Howard Kunstler: Vipers in the garden
There’s a good reason why nobody is paying attention to the election this year except the people who, one way or another, get paid to be interested: because for all that’s at stake there is no coherent discussion about any of it. By ‘at stake’ I mean what we are going to do when the major systems we depend on for everyday life begin to wobble and fail.
There is zero cognizance even among the paid kibitzers that we are near that point. Rather, a rapture of techno-narcissism holds in thrall even people who ought to know better, and a chatter-stream of infotainment propaganda spreads an hallucinatory fog of national self-esteem-boosting figments ranging from “energy independence” to “green jobs.”
The truth of our situation is an implacable contraction of the turbo-corporate economy due to remorseless looming energy scarcity. That is, strange to relate, not altogether bad news (if we were psychologically disposed to process it, which we are not). It doesn’t have to mean that everything in American life goes straight to shit — though it might. It could well mean that some of the most destructive corporate actors go to shit (quickly and unexpectedly), making room for some really beneficial transformation.
For instance, the tensions of excessive scale and lack of resilience could put WalMart and everything like it out of business. It wouldn’t take much to fatally compromise the 12,000-mile supply lines and the ‘warehouse-on-wheels’ that the behemoth retailers depend on. $6 diesel fuel and a few more currency war provocations against China could put the schnitz on the operating system of national chain retail.
It would be the end of the unacknowledged “entitlement” called “bargain shopping,” but it would also provide the opportunity to rebuild the very local and regional economies that these predatory outfits put to death thirty years ago – and, more importantly, open up a vast range of careers, positions, and roles for Americans to play in truly running their own commercial economies in their own home-towns, in particular young Americans otherwise demoralized by an economy that has left so many of them stranded.
This is the direction that reality is taking us in, and one wonders why the candidates can’t begin to articulate it in these ridiculous show-and-tell spectacles that we misunderstand to be “debates.” Obviously it has as much to do with the sheer inertia of the status quo than even with the grotesque distortions of politics inspired by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that has allowed the complete corporate capture of elections. And even that nation-wrecking calamity is probably out-weighed by the US public’s wish to keep all the familiar machinery of daily life going at all costs.
This last part is surely understandable, but it will certainly lead to a tragic outcome: political and social collapse. No one in any realm of US leadership will face the difficulty and uncertainty of finding our way out of this predicament. Both candidates for president are devoted to sustaining the unsustainable and telling fairy tales about running the WalMart economy on “green” pixie dust.
The systems that we depend on for running everyday life can all be clearly described and understood:
- commerce (WalMart);
- farming (agri-biz);
- transportation (happy motoring + airplanes);
- medicine (sickness hostage racket);
- education (babysitting), and so on.
All of them are near the end of their existence in their current mode of operation. But the system in greatest danger is finance, which is the system that is supposed to manage our accumulated wealth and deploy the surplus for purposes that keep civilization going. Finance is the sickest of all these systems now and the one that is most susceptible to collapse.
The basic problem is that finance and its organs of banking now run entirely on accounting fraud, which is to say the misrepresentation of our accumulated wealth and the subsequent misallocation of what’s left of it. Pervasive accounting fraud and control fraud (the criminal abuse of trust in money matters) is joined by the systematic corruption of markets.
The stock and commodity markets can no longer perform their primary role of “price discovery” due to the criminal manipulation of indexes, and in particular the computer arbitrage racket known as high frequency trading, not to mention the absence of regulation and rule-of-law more generally. And the money markets can no longer perform their primary tasks of truthfully pricing debt in relation to risk – that is, establishing interest rates — due to the desperate interventions of central banks.
The result is a money management system that could collapse at any moment into a vacuum of unreality, and the chaos that would ensue is capable of wrecking the current incarnation of advanced industrial civilization.
Mitt Romney represents all the forces that seek to pervert truth in banking, markets, trading, and commercial business. He made his fortune in a business of lethal arbitrage, hunting through the underbrush of American business like a poisonous snake, striking his victims in stealth and then consuming them.
Barack Obama, lawyer and president, forgot that one of his duties is hunting snakes, and has allowed the garden of America to become overrun with snakes. There is even the pretty good chance that, if he loses this election, Mr. Obama will become one of those snakes himself.
Personally, I have no faith in either of them, and watching them pretend to battle in the trumped-up arena of “debate” makes me sick.