James Howard Kunstler – Between a rock and a squishy place
The rock is reality. The squishy place is the illusion that pervasive racketeering is an okay replacement for an economy.
The essence of racketeering is the use of dishonest schemes to get money, often (but not always) employing coercion to make it work. Some rackets can function on the sheer cluelessness of the victim(s).
Is it fair to suppose that money management is at the heart of the sort of advanced, complex economy that developed early in the 20th century? I think so. Money is the lifeblood of trade and of investment in productive activities that support trade. Of course, in order for money to have meaning, to function in such transactional relations, the people must be convinced that it legitimately represents its face value. Otherwise, money must be labeled “money” — that is, a medium of exchange suspected of false value. An economy that uses “money” — especially an economy of rackets — is an economy in a lot of trouble, and that is where ours is in December 2013.
The trouble reached escape velocity in the fall of 2008 when a particular brand of racket among the Wall Street kit-bag of rackets got badly out-of-hand, namely the business of selling securitized bundled mortgages and their “innovative” derivative “products” to dupes unaware that they were booby-trapped for failure which would, perversely, hugely reward the seller of such trash paper. These were, in the immortal words of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich), the “really shitty deal[s]” propagated by the likes of the Goldman Sachs crypto-bank — so-called collateralized debt obligations — pawned off on credulous pension fund managers and other “marks” around the world greedy for “yield.”
It turned out that all the large banks trafficking in such booby-trapped contracts ended up choking on them when “the music stopped” — that is, when the derivative “swaps” payoffs at the heart of this particular racket began to fail, sending up a general alarm that all such “products” were primed to blow up the entire “banking” system. By the way, the quotation marks I so liberally resort to are necessary to denote that in such a matrix of rackets things are not what they appear to be but only what they pretend to be.
The failure of Bear Stearns followed by the implosion of Lehman Brothers and the near-death experience of AIG alerted “civilians” outside Wall Street that the banks were linked in a web of fraud and insolvency and had to be “rescued” in order for the rest of America to keep its “way of life” going. The rescue remedy proved to be several new layers of fraud that have now matured into institutionalized rackets. The best known are the Siamese twins of “Quantitative Easing” and zero interest rate policy (ZIRP). The lesser-known racket was the 2009 rule change by the Financial Accounting Standards Board that allowed banks to make up whatever numbers they felt like in reporting the value of their holdings (“assets”).
Hence, these dishonest, regularized operations can be labeled a hostage racket with coercion at their core. The coercion comes in the form of the threat that any let-up in the stream of QE “money” enjoyed by the banks in the form of carry-trade “loans” and “primary dealer” premium cream-offs will send the economy back to the stone age. Overlooked in this equation is the ongoing destruction of ordinary citizens (a.k.a. the “middle class”) who have already lost their grip on the emblematic “way of life” Wall Street is working so tirelessly to defend. Politicians are, of course, deeply implicated and indeed directly involved in all these rackets, since these hired handmaidens make and execute the laws protecting Wall Street’s looting operations.
The catch to all this, lately, lies in the cognitive dissonance between the symptomatic euphoria of record stock market indexes versus the conviction of a few hardcore skeptical observers that the rackets are now so reckless and impudent as to be beyond any hope of control and on a trajectory to bring about hardships orders of magnitude above anything imagined in 2008.
So-called “health care” is also a hostage racket, since sick people are hardly in a position to bargain for anything, but it is only a sub-system of the larger matrix of rackets that have made this such an unusually dishonest society. My guess is that ObamaCare is sure to make it worse, and pretty quickly too, since the rules for ObamaCare were written by the hireling lobbyists of the industries that benefit from the racketeering.
The big mystery in all this remains: where are the people with some institutional power who might stand up and denounce all this perfidy? What has made us such a culture of cowards and cravens that the best we can do is produce a couple of comedians who speak truth to power in the form of jokes. Most of this is not that funny.
By the way, one reason for the vulgar orgy of “consumerism” that, in recent years, has turned the Thanksgiving holiday into a sort of grotesque sporting event, is to mount a crude demonstration that our “money” is a viable medium of exchange. The dumbest people in the land are induced to swarm through the merchandise warehouse stores and fight to exchange their “money” for hard goods offered at false “bargains.” I wonder how much of it is a dress rehearsal for what happens in a hyper-inflation?
Readers of my World Made By Hand novels may be interested to know that I finished the third volume on Saturday. It will be published by the Atlantic Monthly Press in September 2014, if the book selling industry still exists at that time.
(Originally appeared at Clusterfuck Nation.)
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