Rest in Peace Mumu, great friend and companion...
Monday, February 11, 2013
State of the Union
By James Howard Kunstler
on February 11, 2013 9:09 AM
on February 11, 2013 9:09 AM
The fog of chatter about Federal Reserve money-printing shenanigans, currency wars, fiscal intransigence, exchange rates, and alphabetized rescue operations conceals the central reality of the historical moment: that all industrial economies now face epic contraction, even rip-roaring China in its absurd and spectacular bid to become the latest drive-in utopia. The so-called advanced nations of the world are all sliding toward something less than they wish to be, and the so-called developing nations will backslide further into poverty and anarchy where development will never happen.
The implacable contraction underway is the simple result of growing scarcity of cheap oil, the master resource. Thus, in a world where fantasy has replaced analysis, the propaganda channels brim with false news of America's coming "energy independence" and the rebirth of domestic manufacturing, the coming electric car fleet, and space tourism. There is also chatter among the paranoid that an imagined elite has deliberately engineered American collapse for fun and profit, with sideshows about the Department of Homeland Security promoting social upheaval in order to make a show of putting it down. This is all bullshit concealing the futile machinations of people so unfortunate as to hold political office in an unraveling they can't control. Where control is no longer possible, paranoid fantasies fill the vacuum of wishing for control.
One thing you can be sure of: the current sociopolitical weather will change. A front will blow through and sweep the fog away. So many circles of hazard are spinning around events that some fast-turning object will come off its axis and start smashing all the fantasies. When that happens, it will be every community for itself, and where there are no real communities -- for instance, the vast matrix of suburban noplaces that America emergently composed itself out of in a tragic quest to become its own televised fantasy -- we'll discover the dark side of the "liberty" that so-called conservatives endlessly invoke, in all its screaming eagle iconography.
Not since the Civil War (1861 - 65) has anything bad of this scale happened within the United States itself and the public is unprepared despite our total immersion in the on-screen ersatz heroics of avatars such as Dwayne Johnson. The terrible convulsion of the 1860s was preceded by a political time much like ours is now, with figures (calling them leaders is inaccurate) of no conviction backpedaling furiously toward strife.
Remember these things if you tune in to watch President Obama move his lips on Tuesday amid the incessant applause in the House chamber. He'll speak the words "climate change" and the hall will rock with thunderous handclapping -- but it won't mean anything because both the president and the people have no intention of changing the way we live. Mr. Obama will cheerlead for economic growth and he will be talking out of his ass. It's the nature of this contraction that economic growth is absent. You can have plenty of economic activity -- especially if you re-form (literally) the systems we depend on, such as farming, commerce, medicine, and transportation -- but it won't be expressed favorably in the GDP stats or the balance sheets of CitiGroup and Morgan Stanley.
At the core of this contraction is the disappearing act of real capital -- that is, accumulated wealth -- for the excellent reason that we are squandering what remains of it in the futile effort to keep living the way we do. But it will be vanishing fast, contrary to the view of such fantasists as David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times -- catch him on the current Slate Political Gabfest -- who thinks that the Growth Fairy is about to land on the south lawn of the White House.
The State of the Union Address is happening in a peculiar quiet moment when all the financial brushfires of the time have been reduced temporarily to a smolder that conceals the full involvement of the roots under the surface. Our economic system is burning down. Nobody wants to talk about the system that will have to replace it, which I call a world made by hand.
The fortunate few will be those who have already established themselves in an authentic community of helping hands, who have some tools -- and I don't mean Adobe Photoshop or the latest iPhone app -- and laid in some bits of silver and gold.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Monday, February 04, 2013
By James Howard Kunstler
on February 4, 2013 8:09 AM
on February 4, 2013 8:09 AM
How hilarious is the Federal Reserve's cattle drive of cash money (i.e. "liquidity") into the stock markets? I'll tell you: if that cash is outflow from bonds that pay ZIRP interest rates, then this attempt to stampede investment into the stock market is only going to succeed in ravaging the bond market and by extension the credibility of the dollar, the US banking cartel, and then the world financial system as a whole.
If bond-dumpers rush into stocks, then who are the next bond buyers at ZIRP? The USA can't keep going without continuous bond selling. Somebody has to buy the darn things. The Federal Reserve is now buying around 70 percent of US issue -- a lot of it via secondary market pass-thru shenanigans involving "Primary dealers" (a.k.a. Too Big To Fail banks, who get to cream off a premium when they flip bonds to the Fed -- tidy little racket). If the other 30 percent of issue can't find willing buyers at ZIRP then interest rates will have to go up. If interest rates go up, then interest paid out on bonds (that is "debt service") by the US government will go up catastrophically, because the aggregate debt is so colossal and most of the debt is short term, meaning that in a post-ZIRP world the interest rate ratchets up automatically every 13 weeks as bonds roll over. The US will then only be able to pretend that it can service the debt at higher interest rates. Everybody in the world will recognize this -- surely only increasing the velocity of the stampede away from bonds. The question is: how long can pretending to service debt go on before it is just called by it's real name: default? Or, if countered with additional furious computer "money" creation: hyperinflation? Either way, of course, you end up broke.
This cattle drive into stocks is strictly a political gambit. The cattle are being driven to the slaughterhouse. It's discretionary strategic national financial suicide. They're driving up the stock markets for cosmetic purposes, to make it appear that an economic recovery is going on, and with the aim of setting in motion a self-reinforcing financial feeding frenzy in this rush to "equities." By the way, in case my manner seems didactic today I am attempting to define my terms as I go along because most other financial bloggers seem to assume that ordinary people understand all their jargon, which I am quite sure they do not.
Returning to my point... the Fed and their auditors on Wall Street and in government, are jacking up the stock markets in the hopes of stirring up "animal spirits," as the financial psychologists say, to put over the story that it equals a vibrant economy -- which is nonsense, of course, to anyone who shoots a casual glance at the economic wreckage all around them. Anyway, since the stock market action these days is dominated by high frequency trading robots running on algorithms, where exactly would animal spirits even factor in? If anything the absence of real animal spirits in this action also implies the absence of its counterpart, animal survival instinct, of which human intelligence is an order. What can come of stirring up animal spirits among robots? A train wreck is exactly what.
Now, I ask you: at a moment in history when vast interlinked global financial markets have never been so unstable, so primed for unintended consequences courtesy of the diminishing returns of technology, so ripe for a massive, cascading "accident," is it a prudent thing to fuck around with such crude PsyOps?
One other factor outside pure financials assures that US economic performance will remain impaired (that is, the kind of economic activity we regard as "normal" (suburban sprawl building, credit card "consumer" spending): the price of oil, which is inching up to the $100-a-barrel hashmark. Apparently that shale oil bonanza we hear so much about has not left the USA swimming in cheap oil. As a general principle, it's probably safe to say that an oil price above $80 crushes the US economy. It drives up the cost structure of just about everything we make, do, or sell here, but of course the primary things that go up in price are food and motor fuel.
Hence, it's tragically ironic that -- getting back to official financial PsyOps -- that one of the primary motives for the Fed keeping interest rates super-low in the first place (apart from enabling wild fiscal irresponsibility in government) has been to promote the housing sector -- because in the reality of our time "housing" translates into building more suburban sprawl. How smart is it to promote more suburban sprawl at a moment in history when there's no more cheap oil?
It is this kind of stupendous foolishness that is putting the USA on the path of an epochal systemic collapse.
Did anyone notice how violent and psychotic the Superbowl advertising was this year? An Oreo commercial that depicted a mob of nerds destroying a library -- huh? The Doritos spot where "Daddy" and his male buddies transform themselves into an insane clown posse of cross-dressers. The Fast and Furious 6 trailer featuring the destruction of every vehicle known to man and a few office buildings, too. The third-quarter power failure was a neat harbinger of things-to-come in the Most Exceptional United States of America. Party on, peeps!