Sunday, October 26, 2008

Protecting America by Protecting our Indebtedness

Dear George,

How many ways can you describe the brain rot of the rich and powerful? Just about the time you think you have exhausted the possibilities, you turn a corner and there is another shining example of financial dementia.

Every age thinks it’s a new age when, in truth, it’s simply a rehash of a previous age. Hegel explained these repeated dips into disaster when he said that the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

According to one writer, our current economic crisis is simply a variation on one that has been around for centuries. He quotes economist Hyman Minsky who, were he still alive, would call the current meltdown the “Ponzi stage of the business cycle.” According to Minsky, the Ponzi stage is the last of three stages that lead up to a financial collapse. This is the stage “in which debtors no longer were able to pay off their loans out of current income.”

The writer sums up our predicament by pointing out that, “The banks and large swaths of the financial sector are broke from having made a bad gamble in the belief that money could be made to 'work' under conditions that shrink the underlying industrial economy and stifle wage gains, eroding the market for consumer goods.”

Now, the writer argues that when faced with such a crisis, the only sane policy is to wipe the slate clean and cancel the debts. The idea is so sane, it will never see the light of day. Then he takes us back to the Roman Republic of 110 BC, and tells us the stirring tale of a heroic defense of the free enterprise system.

In those days, the Roman Senate met in a building situated, like our economy, on the edge of a cliff. Rome was groaning under the yoke of debt peonage. So, some reformers in the Senate moved to cancel the debts. Well, don’t think for a moment the kleptocrats who had a vested interest in the debt were going to stand for that. They stormed the Senate and, using the very benches the senators sat on as ramrods, shoved the reformers off the edge of the cliff. Thus, was the term “backbencher” born.

In modern time, we are blessed to have civilized kleptocrats who discovered a long time ago that it is easier to buy a senator than to push him off a cliff. (Though, if we did a cost-benefit analysis...)

Speaking of Paulson’s Wall Street bailout, the writer notes that nobody, but nobody in Congress was able to come up with an alternative to Paulson’s scheme. There are two reasons for that: First, our democracy is dead and has been replaced by the Doctrine of Infallible Expertise in which “experts” have become our high priests and in which it is considered heresy to question their judgment. Second, the purpose of debt is debt so our kleptocrats can continue collecting their interest. Financial collapse is preferable to debt relief any day.

Besides, Congress is well aware that you don’t say “no” to your boss. So why regulate when you can capitulate?

Truly, we are living in a golden age.

Your admirer,
Belacqua Jones

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My father is convinced that this is just one of those stock market slumps that will correct itself shortly. Is he in denial (I think so)? He says any other attitude is just alarmist but I disagree.

Case Wagenvoord said...

This "adjustment" is to a normal sluimp as an nuclear device is to a Chinese firecracker. Go with your gut.

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