Marching Toward Zombieland
When sober-minded individuals begin to regard an enterprise within a nation as "an enemy of the people" you can bet that some serious blood is going to flow. This is now essentially the situation for the Goldman Sachs company, which last week announced third-quarter earnings of over $3 billion largely derived from converting zero percent loans from taxpayers into zero risk profits off of anything paying more than zero percent in interest, revenue, or dividends.
The "people" across this big country may not have a clue how any of this is done, and there may be much to fault them on from the care-and-feeding of their own bodies to the content of their dreams, but you can't argue with the fact that they are heavily armed to an extreme. And although it may be hard to measure with precision, one might venture to state that they are increasingly pissed off. How else explain popular entertainments like "Zombieland?"
The political part of what has to date appeared to be an economic problem is resolving into a crisis of authority and legitimacy. When those in charge of a nation's livelihood prove to be comprehensively false and dishonest, the economic automatically turns political. Nobody believes the bankers anymore, of course, and nobody believes the interlocutors of the bankers - the Federal Reserve chairman, the Secretary of the Treasury, the heads of the SEC and a dozen other regulatory bodies - and increasingly the charming figure in the White House cannot be believed on these issues of the nation's livelihood.
The questions lately revolve around whether the nation is destroying itself by inflation or deflation - by the willful destruction of the value of our currency to evade the repayment of debt, or by the hapless destruction of households, companies, and governments by default and bankruptcy. It's a fire-or-ice debate. Either way the nation is going down as a viable enterprise. The fiction that we can return to a Crate-and-Barrel credit card orgy has sustained the false of heart and mind for some months now, but even that pleasant reverie will come to an end as the foreclosures mount. Only remember, men living in their cars who have lost nearly everything else will still have guns.
All these tensions beat a path into the holiday season when emotions run high, when blessings are counted and sorrows taste most bitter. So the big question now floating above the sheer data of Goldman Sachs profit announcement is: what kind of year-end bonuses will they dare to pay their executives and minions, and how will the "people" react? It seems to me that conditions are ripening for a bloodbath. The kind of heinous acts that we have feared emanating from foreign "evildoers" since the awful stunt of 9/11/01 are now most likely to come from among our own "people" - a few pounds of Semtex in the lobby of Goldman Sachs's New York headquarters... a few men with market-grade small arms converted to full-automatic outside on the Wall Street sidewalk one evening at holiday time when the suits are leaving work for the day.... It won't take much.
President Obama had better strike first. He's about the only figure left in the whole termite mound who has a shred of even potential credibility left because he still has the power to act. He can instruct the people who work for the executive branch to "claw back" any and all ill-gotten bank bonuses; he can direct the Justice Department to investigate everything from the uses of federal bailouts to grand-scale accounting fraud; he can fire people in high places who have failed to act and lost legitimacy. If he doesn't do these things soon then he's finished, too. In the wake of such a failure things will get fractal fast.
The sense that Wall Street has pulled off a coup d'etat and taken over the machinery of the United States is the most powerful meme out there now, and its power is growing in magnitude every day among all classes of Americans. I can't say how much it reflects reality. Even if it is a result of sheer happenstance - the tragic evolution of an industrial economy into a financial finagling economy - the citizens will still experience it as a stealing of their future. Whatever else one might say about American culture, it is keenly attuned to a sense of heroes and villains. We take great pride in our ability to blow away the bad guys. And life imitates art, as Oscar Wilde observed. If a zombie virus is on the loose in America, the first infections showed up in the zombie banks, among the zombie bankers. Watch out, Lloyd Blankfein! Woody is on his way....
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, click here.