A lot can happen in two weeks, which is what remains before the glorious orgy of gifts, sugar plums, and roast goose. Imagine what a global bank run would do for that ole holiday spirit - not to mention the GDPs of the world. Oh, weeping celestial choirs! I suppose we generally assume that God Almighty himself would move heaven and Earth to prevent such a dire convergence of Christmas and a banking collapse, but perhaps the Old Diety is asleep at the switch like the US Department of Justice, the SEC, and a whole alphabet load of other watchful regulators in this, our only known universe.
Reality is a harsh mistress. She insists that you pay attention and then, having done so, take care of business. Politics, on the other hand, is more like stage magic. The man in the tuxedo is always trying to divert your attention. The world has run out of money, that is credible money of the type that represents real wealth, and yet is up to its ears in paper representations of putative wealth-like stuff: mortgages, credit default swaps, Gold ETFs, synthetic CDOs, naked shorts, bonds of all sorts. And now, alas, at Christmas time, the world has gotten a margin call and needs to fork over a whole lot of collateral in order to demonstrate that the global system of financial obligations is legit. Only the collateral turns out to be all this dubious paper, really just a bouquet of promises to pay in distant future Tuesdays for trillions of hamburgers today.
Nobody who observed the proceedings in last week's European Union talks came away from that spectacle feeling reassured. Brussels is like a ventriloquist's dummy sitting on Germany's knee. Germany cannot just step up and act like the Boss of Europe. Too many bad memories of an earlier instance, when a gang of maniacs wearing uniforms studded with grinning totenkopf insignia turned the whole region into a charnel house. So, Germany has to pretend to speak through Brussels. The message was: listen up all y'all nations of the Eurozone! Prepare to live on a whole lot less than you're used to! Do not exceed your borrowing and spending! Or else!
Yes, the lingering question: or else...what?
It is safe to say that nobody believed this mummery. Anyway, Great Britain (a.k.a. Old Blighty) simply checked out. The sceptered isle is now Europe's dog-house. They stayed out of the Euro currency for a reason: so that their equivalent of Wall Street, the City of London, could short the shit out of it when the time came, a strategy that begins to look absolutely brilliant - except considering what Old Blighty is otherwise left with as an economy: Scotch whiskey, mints, and a whole lot of Hallel grocery shops, with the Royals as window dressing. (I'd sooner invest in Argentina, with its amber waves of grain.)
The old animosities are leaking out of Pandora's History Box. Stolid Angela Merkel is stepping on Nikolas Sarkozy's size 14 ½ neck - how long before he starts to buck and holler? The astrologasters cannot come up with any math that shows Italy can meet its forthcoming debt payments. But they are only the leaders of a deadbeat posse that includes virtually everybody else in EuroClub, except perhaps Holland, Germany, and Finland. Could they really start beating up on each other with armies again? It would appear unthinkable. But that is exactly why the First World War destroyed the morale of Western Civ in 1914, too, after the Long Peace that followed the Napoleonic Wars. You're standing there on a lovely street corner in Verdun and the unthinkable whaps you upside the head. So much for the quality of advanced thinking in the Modern Age. Maybe its Poland's turns to rule the world?
In any case, the storyline is as much about the banks as the nations they are in. The banks are at the point where they can conduct business with each other only by pretending that exchanges of value are taking place. Nobody sees any lines of depositors forming on the sidewalks outside their branch offices, but then again nobody can see the digital zeros and ones streaming through the fiber-optic cable, either, and that's certainly where the action is. For the moment that action has a direct line into the perceived greater safety of Wall Street. Oh, yeah, follow Jim Cramer's advice and buy buy buy. Invest in a nation of lawless slobs with a two-second attention span oscillating between Nascar and the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Did you catch President Obama on 60 Minutes last night. Charming fellow. Sincere and even purposeful, too. But displaying a big patch of cluelessness, like virtually everybody else in a position of authority in this benighted land. The President intimates that we will surely return to the turbo economy of a fast-receding yore. He is missing something big there. We are not going back to that. The fiesta is over. And his job is not to try to go back there, because it is impossible. His job was to lead an epochal re-set of the economy to a very different disposition of things, smaller, finer, more local. It is so far outside the box he's in that light-years cannot even begin to describe the distances involved. And I completely dismiss his claim that the reason no prosecution of Wall Street misconduct happened was because, however odious their schemes and scams were, they were technically legal.
Anyway, I'm already looking forward to the nominating conventions of next summer, when angry mobs of the swindled and desperate descend on Charlotte and Tampa like ravaging locusts. Won't that be a wake up call!
And now to bake all my Christmas Cookies.