story behind the "fiscal cliff" melodrama and the much-memed handwringing about the "good-for-nothing
congress" is probably not quite what it appears -- a set of problems
that will eventually be overcome by "better leadership" armed with
"solutions." The story is really about the permanent disabling of
government at this scale and at this level of complexity. In other words, the
federal government will never solve its obvious problems of mismanagement and
bankruptcy and is now only in business to pretend that it can discharge its
obligations (while employees enjoy the perqs). It's
just another form of show business.
same can be said of most of the state governments, too, of course, except
that they have a lower capacity to pretend they can take care of anything.
They can and will go bankrupt, and then they'll go begging to the federal
government to bail them out, which the federal government will pretend to do
with pretend money. By then, though, the practical arrangements of daily life
would probably be so askew that politics would take a new, darker, and more
extreme turn --among other things, in the direction of secession and breakup.
wonder of it all is that there hasn't been civil disorder yet. When I go into
the supermarket, I marvel at the price of things: a single onion for a
dollar, four bucks for a jar of jam, five bucks for a box of Cheerios, four
bucks for a wedge of cheese. Is everybody except Jamie Dimon,
Lloyd Blankfein, and Mark Zuckerberg
living on store-brand macaroni and ketchup? It's hard to measure the
desperation of households in this culture of rugged individualism. At social
gatherings friends rarely tell you that they are two months behind in their
mortgage payment and maxed out on their credit cards. And that's the supposed
middle class, at least the remnants of it. I can't tell you what the
tattoo-and-falling-down-pants crowd talks about in the parking lot outside
the 7-Eleven store. Perhaps they swap meth recipes.
disorder would at least mean something, a consensus of dissatisfaction about
how life is lived. Instead, we only get mad outbursts of tragic
meaninglessness: the slaughter of innocent children in school, or movie
theater patrons mowed down by a lone maniac during the coming attractions.
Life imitates art, as Oscar Wilde said, and these days television is our art.
Hence the United States is now equal parts Jersey Shore, Buck Wild, the Kardashians, and Honey Boo Boo.
That's not really a lot to work with in terms of social capital, especially
where radical politics might be called for.
anybody now breathing even remember radical politics? Whether you liked them
or not -- and I was not crazy about the whole "revolution" of the
late 1960s, which I lived through -- it at least represented a level of
seriousness that is now absolutely and starkly absent today, especially in
young people. Who, in the West, besides Julian Assange,
has stuck his neck out in the past ten years? And please don't tell me Ron
Paul, who had ample opportunity in congressional hearings over the years to
really call out the banksters and their government wankster errand boys, and all he ever did was nip around
their trouser legs.
I stick to the point I made in The Long Emergency and again in Too Much
Magic: expect America's national and state governments to only become more
ineffectual and impotent. They will never recover from the insults inflicted
on themselves. Events are in the drivers
seat, including things unseen, and the people pretending to be in charge have
arranged things into such a state of fragility that accidents are sure to
happen, especially involving the basic structures of money. In case you don't
know it yet, you're on your own now. Put whatever energy you can muster into
finding a community to be a part of.
reality stands by with mandates of its own. Do people like Barack Obama and
John Boehner think we're going to re-start another round of suburban
expansion (a.k.a. the housing market)? That's largely what the old economy
was based on, and what Wall Street fed off of parasitically the past twenty
years. That is so over. Do they believe that when absolutely every task in
America is computerized there will be any gainful work outside of a sort of
janitorial IT to tend all the computers. We've
already seen what happens with the telephone system: after 30 years of
techno-innovation in "communications," it's now impossible to get a
live human being on the phone and robots call you incessantly during the
dinner hour. Anyway, we don't really have the energy resources to supply the
electricity for all this crap indefinitely, or probably even another twenty
the tendencies and trends in contemporary life are reaching their limits at
the same time, and as they do things will crack up and fall apart, whether it
involves the despotic reach of a government, or a tyrannical corporation, or
a hedge fund server farm stuffed with algo-crunching
computers sucking the life out of every honest market transaction until the
markets are zombies. The euphoria that greeted the end of the fiscal cliff
ritual has settled back into the feckless collective state-of-mind that we
call "bullish." It's all noise and the madness of crowds now. And
black swans shitting on your head some sunny day.