James Howard Kunstler: The birds of spring are singing (Or is it the fat lady?)
Spring is popping now with a ferocious energy that can only remind the sullenly sequestered masses that life is going on without them. Every living thing is busy making-and-doing out there, except the poor humans, idled without work or purpose. That won’t last long. People don’t submit automatically to zombification when some pissant bureaucrats issue them $1200 checks. They yearn to bust out like everything else on this living planet. And if they can’t do it in a good way, well….
The mega-machine we constructed to drive this society has sucked a valve and thrown a rod. The machine is broken, no matter how much more fuel the mechanics pump in. (One suspects somebody may have topped it off with Karo syrup.) Anyway, the machine got too big and too complex, with too many extraneous bells and whistles, and with way too much computerized cybernetic control built-in, so the mechanics barely noticed it was coming apart (they were too busy partying). That big machine is smoldering in a ditch for the moment. The dazed and bloodied passengers realize that the ride is over, and now they must march on to get somewhere, anywhere, away from this miserable ditch and the wreckage in it. The fine spring weather is their only consolation.
And so here we are at a fraught moment in the convergent crises of corona virus and the foundering economic system that it infected, with all its frightful pre-existing conditions. Of course, it isn’t capitalism, so-called, that is failing, but the perversions of capitalism, starting with the appendage of the troublesome term: ism. It isn’t a religion, or even a pseudo-religion like Zoroastrianism or communism. It’s simply the management system for surplus wealth. In a hyper-complex society, the management of wealth naturally grows hyper-complex, too, with lavish opportunities and temptations for chicanery, cheating, fraud, and swindling (the perversions of capital). It’s in the interest of the managers to cloak all that hyper-complex perversity in opaque language, to make it seem okay.
How many ordinary Americans have a clue what all the Municipal Liquidity Facilities, Primary Dealer Credit Facilities, Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities, Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facilities, Main Street New Loan Facilities and Expanded Loan Facilities, Commercial Paper Funding Facilities currency swap lines, the TALFs TARPs, PPPs, SPVs represent — besides the movement, by keystrokes, of “money” from one netherworld to another (both conveniently located on Wall Street), usually to the loss of non-elite citizens generally and to their offspring’s offspring’s offspring?
Real capital is grounded in the production of real things of real value, of course, and when it’s detached from all that, it’s no longer real capital. Money represents capital, and when the capital isn’t real, the money represents…nothing! And ceases to be real money. Just now, America is producing almost nothing except money, money in quantities that stupefy the imagination — trillions here, there, and everywhere. The trouble is that money is vanishing as fast as it’s being created. That’s because it’s based on promises to be paid back into existence that will never be kept, on top of prior promises to pay back money that were broken or are in the process of breaking. The net result is that money is actually disappearing faster than it can be created, even in vast quantities.
All this sounds like metaphysical bullshit, I suppose, but we are obviously watching money disappear. Your paycheck is gone. That activity you started — a brew-pub, a gym, an ad agency — no longer produces revenue. The HR department at the giant company you work for told you: don’t bother coming into the office tomorrow, or possibly ever again. Your bills are piling up. The numbers in your bank account run to zero. That sure smells like money disappearing. Wait until the pension checks and the SNAP cards mysteriously stop landing in the mailbox.
There’s going to be a lot of trouble. Ordinary Americans are going to get super-pissed if money doesn’t disappear from the stock markets, too. They’ve seen this movie before. They will know for sure that they were played, that the class of people who hold most of the stocks are doing just fine while everybody else stares into that old abyss staring back at them. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the Hamptons on that fateful day.
All this because we just can’t face the task of reorganizing our national home economics to suit new circumstances. So, nature will do it for us. Nature will furnish us with a marvelously efficient black hole where we can conveniently stash our fake money so that we’ll never have to see it again. Nature will bust up our giant institutions, our giant corporations, our giant networks of financial obligations. And after a period of confusion and social disorder, some clever humans will aggregate into smaller networks and re-organize their activities on a smaller scale that actually supports truthful relationships between the production of things deemed to hold value and money that represents those things.
The beauty of springtime is sublime and, as Edmund Burke noted, that very beauty provokes our thoughts of pain and terror.
PS: A mighty thanks to all of you on Patreon who have stepped up to support this blog in the most uncertain of times: A Message to You From a Grateful James Howard Kunstler