Mr. Smith: Duchamp, the Big Glass and Chronic Illness
I don't know who dubbed me "dag's doomer" over the masthead last week, but I had to laugh because I think of doomers as those guys that are predicting an imminent meltdown of society (or its cheese) but will gladly sell gold, shotguns and freeze-dried food to all comers. We're in the time of year when radio stations replay the classic songs, tv stations replay the classic movies, newspapers tally celebrity deaths, and doomers tell us just how lucky we were this year but just how bad next year will be. I'm sure James Kunstler, Dr (Doom) Nouriel Roubini, et al, will not disappoint us in the doomsaying department, but let's face it, folks, things are already bad right now. As Joseph Stiglitz writes in Vanity Fair:
It has now been almost five years since the bursting of the housing bubble, and four years since the onset of the recession. There are 6.6 million fewer jobs in the United States than there were four years ago. Some 23 million Americans who would like to work full-time cannot get a job. Almost half of those who are unemployed have been unemployed long-term. Wages are falling - the real income of a typical American household is now below the level it was in 1997.
I have to stress that I personally am doing well. I'm not wealthy, I've been laid off in past recessions, but I have good health, a supportive wife and in this awful recession I still have a steady job that I enjoy. My children, stepchildren and siblings are all mostly doing well, too. I am thankful for all of that, but you don't have to sleep in an Occupy tent to see people that are struggling. John Michael Greer has a piece up, This Is What Peak Oil Looks Like, which resonates with me:
The point that has to be grasped just now, it seems to me, is that this is what peak oil looks like. Get past the fantasies of sudden collapse on the one hand, and the fantasies of limitless progress on the other, and what you get is what we're getting - a long ragged slope of rising energy prices, economic contraction, and political failure, punctuated with a crisis here, a local or regional catastrophe there, a war somewhere else - all against a backdrop of disintegrating infrastructure, declining living standards, decreasing access to health care and similar services, and the like, which of course has been happening here in the United States for some years already. ... those of us who still have jobs will be struggling to hang onto them, those who have lost their jobs will be struggling to stay fed and clothed and housed, and those crises and catastrophes and wars, not to mention the human cost of the broader background of decline, will throw enough smoke in the air to make a clear view of the situation uncommonly difficult to obtain.
Greer is describing the difference between a growth economy, with new opportunities for all, and a gradually declining economy, which looks more like a long, long game of musical chairs. Federal Reserve statistics show mild growth, but as described in a New York Times article, In the Forecasting Fog, It’s Wise to Slow Down, there is a lot of disagreement as to the actual state of the economy:
... the Economic Cycle Research Institute, an organization with an excellent track record, says the United States is actually heading into another recession, if it isn’t in one already.
In a statement at the end of the Federal Open Markets Committee meeting last week, it said the housing market — usually an important component of a recovery — remains moribund. Moreover, it said, economic growth will be too anemic to have a low unemployment rate anytime soon. In this vulnerable time, “strains in global financial markets” — read, turbulence in the euro zone — pose a serious threat, it added. A financial shock could darken the outlook immediately.
In, This slump won’t end until 2031, Matthew Lynn of MarketWatch sounds Kunstler-grade gloomy:
I have been researching that episode for my new e-book ”The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031.” The parallels with our own time are fascinating. German unification, and the adoption of the gold standard, had led to a boom in that country, and cheap German money had flooded Europe. Greece had just joined the Latin Currency Union, an ill-fated attempt to merge currencies across Europe. Banking had been deregulated, which was partly why so much German money was invested on the Vienna bourse. The telegraph created instant communications, allowing the European crash to spread to New York. The U.S. was industrializing, transforming the global economy as much as China has transformed the present era’s economy in the past decade.
All those factors came together to create an almighty bubble, followed by an even worse crash. The slump that followed — although it is hard to measure these things precisely — lasted more than two decades. If the slump following the crash of 2008 is anything like that one, then this one is going to last until 2031.
And in, IMF warns that world risks sliding into a 1930s-style slump, Christine Lagarde sounds Roubini-grade gloomy:
"There is no economy in the world, whether low-income countries, emerging markets, middle-income countries or super-advanced economies, that will be immune to the crisis that we see not only unfolding but escalating.
"It is not a crisis that will be resolved by one group of countries taking action. It is going to be hopefully resolved by all countries, all regions, all categories of countries actually taking some action."
Even if growth was guaranteed, it is hard to put much faith in statistics when such a small percentage of the population benefits. In addition, as I noted on Oxy's post, the economy is increasingly rewarding banks and corporations that can influence government and/or game the markets, while sending a larger and larger percentage of the middle class into permanent unemployment.
Predictably, the people that have lost ground have protested the changes, like the Tea Party, Occupy or Indignados trying to get back what they've lost, or Arab Spring protestors trying to get what they've never had. But after the figureheads tumble and nothing really changes, after so many elections where nothing really changes, how will the key people around us adjust their ideals, adapt to the new realities and play their part in a declining world? I mean those people that affect us most directly. Will police, bosses, inspectors, principals, teachers, store clerks, bank tellers, repairmen, etc. that we rely on and deal with be fair - or will they become the sort of venal and impersonal characters we associate with hopelessly corrupt societies?
So far the plutocracy, using an acquiescent media, has successfully turned half of the people against the other half. While Occupy has tried to draw a distinction between the 1% and the 99%, the rightwing and mainstream media has lumped those people dropping out of the middle class in with the usual suspects of the indigent and working poor. Hard-working people are apparently supposed to go to North Dakota, or anywhere else, seeking jobs.
So it seems to me that what some might call doomerism has gone mainstream, that we are being urged to accept it as normal, and to believe that some of us deserve it.