A waterfall of woe broke over all the realms of money last week – including especially the realm where we determine just what money is supposed to mean – and a lot of folks barely made it to a rooftop, or a floating log, or some scrap of high ground, where they sit wet and shivering, expecting to get slammed again. The torrent of events is still flowing and there are countless dangerous objects bobbing in it. Remember what that in-rushing ocean was like in the Fukushima tsunami? A wall of miso soup strewn with Toyotas and houses instead of squid rings and fish balls. Try swimming in that. (Try swimming in your Cuisinart on the guacamole setting.)
Europe is telling itself one cockamamie story after another. We’ve got a rescue fund! Only it has no money! But we will bail out Italy nonetheless! But Italy is too big to bail out – and we tried stuffing it under the carpet, but there’s no more room with Greece, Ireland, and Portugal already suffocating in there. The whole G-20 is yakking on the phone as I write, hatching fresh cockamamie stories. Oh, now it looks like the European Central Bank will ride to the rescue with a dispatch satchel full of good intentions. They said the same thing last time, a month or so ago, when a caryatid fell on Greece’s head. They are not so sure what money is either. Is a bond like money? Maybe not so much anymore. A stock portfolio? Feh! A Euro? The damned thing is starting to look like a ball-and-chain custom-crafted to weigh down Germans. (And, let’s face it: they never did pay any of us for World War Two, really, except what they had to fork over to get the communist side of their own country out of hock. Their guilt-o-meter is still buzzing, I’m sure.) All I know is I hope the whole gang printed up some fresh lira, francs, marks, drachma, pesetas, punts, and whatnot. It would be nice to go back to one of these cute places some day at a discount.
Did you admire Standard and Poor’s sly, Friday night downgrade of the United States Treasury bond rating? I was probably the only one in the whole country besides Anderson Cooper not out eating something bigger than my own head at Applebees, or watching the “Footwear Clearance” show over on the Shopping Network. However, I’m not the only one in America asking where do these S and P punks get off downgrading US bonds when three years ago they wore out their Triple-A rubber stamps on the cartloads of stinking offal that Angelo Mozillo and other mortgage rustlers were pawning off as bond-fodder on every Frankenstein “investment opportunity” pumped out of the Wall Street CDO mills. Government officials were righteously seething over S and P’s chutzpah, but I suppose when they tried to ring-up Eric Holder over at the DOJ they got connected to some call center in Uttar Pradesh where a friendly fellow named “Dale” picked up. China’s government-run newspaper virtually spanked the US: “Learn (thwack) to live (thwack) within (thwack) your (thwack) means!”
I’m not convinced that the US bond rating will even matter that much because nobody knows what anything is worth anymore – especially when governments teeter and the folks in the public square (or the parking lot in America’s case), start yelling for blood. Merkel, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Zapatero, will soon be swept away by that selfsame rolling torrent of dreck-strewn woe – in their case a bouillabaisse – while poor Obama looks like one of those hapless, floating creatures in the second-to-last scene of O Brother, Where Art Thou. Even the gold bugs are scared the price will collapse in a debt deflation, or that the federal government will slap a giant extra-special punitive capital gains tax on precious metal sales, or will try to confiscate it from the public altogether like Franklin Roosevelt did – though, given the vast arsenals of private firearms across this land, and the martial spirit lingering in many pissed-off factions of the Tea Party ilk, nothing would invite a revolution, or civil war, or civic upheaval as surely as trying to snatch folks’ gold. As a capital preservation refuge, I’m sympathetic to gold, of course, though not so much to buggery.
Everybody is broke now: national treasuries, giant banks, pension funds, insurance companies. The wonder so far is that credit default swaps have not yet been triggered by interest rate changes or some other silly shit, but when that comes to pass there is no way the counterparties can settle their contracts. Ruin will thunder through the financial system like winged death. Everybody is broke and there’s a lot less real “money” (whatever it is) out there. Everybody’s quailing at the prospect of QE 3, in all its cosmic futility. The United States has already half killed itself at the Golden Corral steam-table of deep-fried debt. I guess we could go all the way and shoot what remains of the dollar in its pitiful, lolling head.
There is a welling recognition that the dice have been cast and the world has rolled snake eyes. The casino is on fire and a flash flood is boiling down the strip. It’s no fun running to the exits only to find the revolving doors already eyeball deep in dirty water. America gibbers to itself but nobody has a clue. I’ll try to help: this is a compressive financial and economic contraction (one is money, the other is activity). Late-summer storm that it is, it looks to be intensifying. Everything that’s super-big is going down sooner or later. The exact sequence of failures is unpredictable. But you can be sure Nature is telling you to get local, get smaller, get finer, downscale, solidify your friendships, and drop your stupid grandiose fantasies about running WalMart on algae. This is change you don’t have to believe in, because it is about to jump up and bite you on the lips.
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