In The Age Of Battling Narratives & Broken Consensus
This age of battling narratives tends to conceal the broken consensus behind it. What’s gone is a broad social agreement that there are certain fundamental realities, and then codes of conduct that follow from them.
When anything goes, don’t expect people to do the right thing, or even know what it is.
The Covid-19 debacle presents just such a set of quandaries and puzzles. For many people stewing in quarantine, the virus is a just another evil phantom lurking in the permanent twilight zone of television, and even there, among the familiar jabbering figments, there’s little agreement about it. The statistical projections mutate weekly. It’s no worse than any annual flu… It’s a savage illness that attacks every organ in the body, leaves survivors maimed, and you can even catch it again… The lockdowns are imperative… the lockdowns amount to economic suicide… There’s no sorting it all out, and the uncertainty itself is intolerable.
The only certainty is that most of the people in lockdown are going broke fast. By any ordinary rules, they are wiped out. They can’t even pretend anymore to keep juggling all those monthly payments for rent or mortgages, food, the cars, the medical insurance, the electricity, the cable, and on and on. The $1200 mad money checks promised by Uncle Sam are little consolation for that, and the small business “loans” – if you can even jump through the infuriating hoops to get them – just pile on an additional layer of obligation in a lifetime of debt serfdom. You don’t have to leap too many steps ahead mentally to imagine utter personal ruin on that glide path. And so what if millions of others are feeling squashed by the same phantom forces of disease and finance?
One firm reality is this: the global debt system that supported the turbo-charged global economy, was disintegrating badly in the early fall of 2019, threatening every financial asset and the markets that affected to manage them – and all the operations of modern daily life that they represented. Nowhere on earth was the debt load more out-of-control than in China, where there were no constraints whatsoever on the banks’ accounting fraud, since they answered solely to the ruling party, which had but one overarching policy: to keep ruling.
And the biggest economic fiction of all was that China could maintain its supernatural growth rates in a world that had actually reached the limits of growth. Mr. Trump’s trade wars sent tremors through the system. A whole lot of bad loans were about to be flushed down the drain. Banks everywhere else felt the vibrations, too, you may be sure. The Wuhan virus was, at least, a very convenient distraction from all that. And then, the darn thing got loose on countless airplane flights around the world.
The Covid-19 corona virus didn’t initiate the financial disorders of the moment in the US and Europe, but it ensured that there would not be another appearance of any “recovery” a la the central bank interventions of 2009-19. What it portends is a fast-track journey to a whole new disposition of things: first, for a while, a harsher, hungrier, angrier society of broken promises and dashed expectations; and then adaptation when a consensus emerges that the set of facts at hand amount to a new reality. In the meantime, we’re living in the meantime, which is not a comfortable place.
Money is not an economy. Money is a medium of exchange within an economy where people grow things, make things, move things, and serve each other in countless ways. We’re not going to replace all those growings, makings, movings, and services by just giving people money. Money may produce more money by the magic of compound interest, but money is not necessarily wealth, it just represents our ideas about wealth, and interest stops compounding anyway when the trend is clearly for reduced growings, makings, movings, and servicings. That’s exactly how and why capital vanishes. The hocus-pocus of Modern Monetary Theory can only pretend to work around that reality.
The world never reached such a pitch of activity up to the blow-ups of 2008, and it went through the motions for a decade after that. Now that it’s stopped, all that’s left is the law of gravity, and it doesn’t get more basic. The “wealth” acquired in the decade since by the so-called “one-percent” was loaded onto a defective aircraft, like a Boeing 737-MAX, and an awful lot of it will fall to earth now on broken wings. Their agents and praetorians on Wall Street are working feverishly to stave off that crash-landing, like a band of magicians casting spells on the ground while that big hunk of juddering metal augers earthward.
Wait for it as spring brings new life across the land and things unseen before steal onto the scene.