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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Musings On Bubbles And Growth And, Yes, Personal Responsibility

Cry Of The Masses

I am not an economist.

That is a very popular (dis)qualification being thrown about these days, a natural consequence of a nation of somnabulists grudgingly educating itself. Honestly, this empire is/was wealthy enough to forestall reality for a very long time, certainly longer than it is/has, but sheer exuberance and hubris has accelerated its inevitable and unforgiving arrival.

This brings me to economic "bubbles" or, let's just say it, economic "growth." As I say, I am not an economist, and compared even to (most of) the IANAE blogger brigade, I consider my comprehension of the matters-at-hand to be inferior. For example, the 'dogs & 'pups over at FireDogLake have been breathing virtual fire, casting a thermodynamic glow that is quite illuminating. Just a small sampling of recent posts:

The Foreclosure Spells Disaster For The Economy - masaccio
Robbery: The Passionate Fashion of the Swells - Glenn W. Smith
Cartoon: Quantitative Easing Explained - Jane Hamsher
Are Obama and Congress Set To Screw American Counties, Homeowners and Give Wall Street Mortgage Banksters a Retroactive Immunity Bailout? - bmaz

And anything by the inimitable Ian Welsh. There are many more, of course. Use The Google.

With such coverage and impressively expanding comprehension on the parts of the writers and commenters, I am loathe to weigh in... but of course I shall anyway.

What I want to bring to the fore is a realistic appraisal of where exactly the responsibility or blame lies in this in-our-face train wreck of wealth creation, destruction, reallocation, disparity, exploitation, oh christ I get exhausted just staring at it. And why the old rose-colored glasses have lost their magic tint.

There's finger-pointing and then there's finger-pointing. From the left, in general it is accepted cant that a greedy class of uber-rich sociopaths have engineered this insanity. The right, on the other hand, are executing an astonishing level of pretzel logic to blame the "irresponsible" poor or over-reaching middle-class for the meltdown of the day. On the face of it, it is clear that the narrative of the right suffers from a great deal of dishonesty, especially since if there is a greedy class of uber-rich sociopaths who have engineered this insanity, this is exactly the narrative they would prefer. So, the left gets the majority credit for credible and honest attempts at analyzing the "situation."

That's not the whole story now, though... is it?

Another reason the left gets the majority credit is the obvious facts that there are, at least for now, clear winners and losers in this drama, and it is always a bit of a stretch to credit the misplaced self-interest of losers to explain the "accidental" windfall of the winners. On the other hand, it is also clear that these "winners" are ham-handedly sowing the seeds for their own destruction, which makes them losers at the end of the day as well, so there surely must be something more, er, human going on here.

I am well aware of the fact the right "intelligentsia" (if I may stretch the meaning of that word a bit) would find some of what I am to say here as a buttress to their arguments, but that is only because they are stupid. If any out there deem me relevant or important enough to quote out of context, please have the decency to provide a link so some of my more intelligent brethren can click over and catch a little nuance, mkay?

I was hauling my duffel-bag of weekly laundry back from the cleaners this morning, a little over a half-mile each way, musing over how simplified my life has become of late, and at the same time marveling over the shiny metal boxes filled with consumers and workers freshly scrubbed and dressed for another go at the good old American Dream. It is reminiscent of the counterpoint of me-past and me-present, and a strong reminder of what a player I was in the fallacies of American economy - blissfully in denial of my insect-like impact (or reward) in it, with barely conscious intimations of that inevitable wealth and glory that ever lies around the next corner, intimations like ephemeral carnival barkers slipping out of sight as you buck up and try for the next block.

Much indignation is being made about these pernicious "bubbles" that are engineered by the MOTU in order to brutally transfer more and more wealth upwards into their coffers. IANAE, but I see no difference between these speculative bubbles and the concept of economic growth in general, an idea that has been internalized by Americans - nay, by the human race - for as long as I can remember. It is no exaggeration to say that economic growth was/is a policy unto itself, deemed as necessary and moral as it is butt-stupid obviously unsustainable. I am somewhat proud to say that I have, at least intellectually, always questioned this conceit - even when I was even more woefully ignorant of the dismal science than I am now, having been forced to learn a few things - but that skepticism was simply another scrap on the heap of evidence to my friends and family that I, Petro, really am a radical lunatic.

I don't look so crazy these days. It's kinda not-fun.

Now, just because I had an intellectual skepticism regarding the logic of growth-forever, that did not stop me from basking in the zeitgeist of future optimism. Frankly, I really wasn't aware of the psychological connection between the two ideas - I mean, I would have if it had occurred to me to sit down and think about it for a minute but, just as it is impossible to disabuse someone of a notion whose paycheck depends upon holding it, where was the incentive? Even for one such as myself who is given to irritatingly and even arrogantly questioning every a priori assumption I'm faced with, as an optimistic American I was prone to give that one a pass.

So, I ask myself, what was it that gave me the serenity in giving it all up? In a world of optimism and growth-forever, a person would simply feel like a useless slacker, there would be no serenity, no justification. The weight of mine and society's conscience would make me a dead-beat, a useless eater. Now, this sounds familiar, for these are the very arguments of the right, and the arguments of forever-growth. Now that we are wrecking against the wall of reality, however, and the myths of forever-growth are derailing to the left and to the right, in our faces, a different sensibility emerges.

What was once optimism and growth-forever now looks like venal exploitation, which is precisely what it is. If one is inclined to be a "good" person (and the vast majority of us monkeys are, in spite of evidence), one aligns ones lifestyle with practices conducive to the general order of the universe. Up to now, the general order of the universe was growth-forever, as delusional as that was. The one good thing that we can take from this horrible, horrible economic situation is that what we perceive as the general order of the universe is now closer to the actual general order of the universe.

This is a sea-change in consciousness, for the individual and for society. While it is pretty traumatic for an individual to wake up and accept his fundamental poverty, it is a relatively short trauma and one that is mitigated by a host of pleasures, an honest awareness not being the least of them. For the body politic and for nations and states and communities, it is a horror. It is a horror because at that level it is a death, and all contemplations to "fix" the situation bring one around to just the death.

And so, I say that this is only an individual journey. There are six and a half billion individual journeys on this planet (a peak number that will be culled in a few very short generations), and a significant number of them live in the zeitgeist of "the West." I argue that collective attempts to preserve or resurrect any kind of an economic system, growth-forever or not, will fail utterly (and intermittently violently,) and it again comes down to the individual - who, in a healthy arrangement, extends to his immediate family, friends, community, bound by common interests and common dreams.

Ultimately, we are all in this community, and it is time for its healthy flowering to occur from the roots, from the bottom up, so that our common dreams remain truly common. We have been feeding too long on the "common dreams" of an elite who have convinced us that we are all moving towards their club, if we are just patient and good and hard-working.


  1. Your Favorite BartenderNovember 26, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    I ask but one simple question to your convoluted and, dare I say, self congratulatory post. What the hell is wrong with wanting those "elite" things? I don't look down on you or anyone else who does not want those things, more power to you, to each his own, different strokes...but in the same way that what you see as truly "valuable" will most certainly differ from others, couldn't it just be that those things I enjoy happen to be considered "elite?" I drove by Pebble Beach Golf Links today, and wished I was playing them, not because they are exclusive or expensive but because it is a nearly perfect course. From my recollection this would have less than zero appeal to you Petro...does that make me better than you? Worse? I don't like being "elite" but I do see the appeal of some of the things that people consider "elite." I don't look down on your lifestyle (in fact in some ways I do envy it) so why is it reading you I so often feel as if you are looking down on mine?

  2. What's up, my friend? Nice to hear from you - lonely for all of my Phoenix friends.

    To be succinct and all, "elite" tastes would be those that require a T-Rex-sized carbon footprint to fulfill, versus a more equitable human carbon footprint.

    That's really all. It's not about better or worse... uh... well, maybe!

  3. To engage in a little stairway wit, I must of course thank you for lobbing me that softball.



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