The coming crash - Is it stupidity, arrogance, or another unwritten, deniable "final solution"?
Its time for me to discuss my pessimism for the future. In various threads, people respond to my pessimism with the classic "so what's your solution?". My answer is that there is no solution that preserves anything like a decent life for the vast majority of Americans. When I am called a "Debbie Downer" for this attitude, its very hard to resist shooting back with "Pollyanna". But I do resist that impulse.
All I'm asking of respondents to this essay is to engage with the pessimism, to follow the big picture logic.
I'm inviting you to see things from my point of view, instead of just slamming me for refusing to get excited about politics as usual, refusing to believe that we can elect our way out of our problems. IMHO, getting excited about a single presidential candidate, whether its Bernie or Tulsi, is just a ghost dance. The whole system has to change, and that's not happening short of a crash of some sort.
Just FYI, I only became a complete pessimist after the 2016 election. The open contempt for anyone with a brain and eyeballs became impossible to ignore:
- the blatant criminality of what was done to Bernie by the DNC,
- the unrelenting and coordinated psyops against Bernie by the completely consolidated corporate media,
- Bernie's surrender and subsequent kowtowing to the neolib/neocon Clinton Crime Family,
- the FBI/DOJ conspiracy that allowed Hillary to skate on multiple felony charges,
- the DNC rejection of Keith Ellison as chair, engineered by Tom Perez and boatloads of money,
- the ludicrous Russiagate propaganda campaign (another FBI conspiracy) that has morphed into outright censorship,
- the bipartisan support for blowing up Syria and facilitating the Wahhabi terrorists funded by the medieval Saudis,
- the large crop of CIA Democrats nurtured and supported by the DNC in 2018, even as progressives were sabotaged and shut down.
Given those items and many more, IMHO the foundations of democracy - that everyone's vote is equal, that there is equal justice under law - have been destroyed. Politics is corrupt and run by the 1% for their own benefit. The 99% is consistently outvoted via bought primaries and rigged elections, via reactionary judges and regulators appointed by the duopoly over a period of decades, and via massive voter suppression.
Politically, America has two elite parties today, the equivalent of Whigs (Dems) and Tories (GOP). We no longer have the equivalent of a Labor party (the former New Deal Democratic Party). When you look at the societal dynamic, its quite clear we are back to a ruling aristocracy and a powerless peasantry. Except there is a massive investment in Kabuki theatre democracy to keep the peasants bamboozled. Hence, appropriately crippled popular politicians are given just enough oxygen to bleed off discontent without actually accomplishing anything important.
Unfortunately for the new American peasantry, there is no tradition of peasant rebellion (jacquerie). As John Steinbeck said:
Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
With those well-known facts as preamble, let me describe how I see the future unfolding.
The Coming Crash
I have been an economic pessimist longer than a political one. The crash of 2008 and the subsequent indictment-free bailout of Wall St. instead of the citizenry demonstrated who runs this country, and it validated their program of financialized looting. Over the following decade, the asset bubble was re-blown with Quantitative Easing (QE). The rise of Exchange Traded Funds (aka passive investment) is an admission that, in today's stock market, prices go up because prices go up, not because of any underlying connection between stock prices and corporate value. Stock prices, goosed by obscene amounts of stock buybacks, are at record levels based primarily on the completely overvalued FAANG stocks. The whole economy looks like its in the last throes of a gigantic Ponzi scheme. And the people who will be left holding worthless pieces of paper will be the "dumb money" - America's pension funds and all the private daytraders.
An economic crash is inevitable. Growth in the post-2008 "recovery" has been anemic. After ten years of hooking the economy on QE, the Fed has tried Quantitative Tightening (QT) for the last year; and the economy instantly started to crater. That's because non-zero interest rates exposed the fact that all the money corporations borrowed went into stock buybacks instead of capital investment. The borrowed money was used to loot the corporations via buyback payouts instead of being used to bring out new products or train skilled workers. Another effect of QT has been to massively increase the interest payments on a national debt that has been bloated by Trump's new tax giveaways to the super-rich. Those interest payments and the resulting pressure to cut Federal spending on everything else (except, of course, the MIC) will further slow the economy as government employees go jobless and government funding for projects dries up.
To compensate for falling profit rates, despite paying depositors minimal interest due to QE, the banks have been running a campaign to eliminate cash. What a windfall for them! A fee on every transaction, the ability to give "haircuts" to savings accounts as they please, the ability to confiscate assets at will (since nobody has cash), plus the added value of tracking every single transaction for purposes of surveillance. This is the kind of "innovation" that we can expect in today's bankster-run America.
The increasing inferiority of US products to products of countries not run by financial parasites is getting obvious. We are behind China on 5G (of course, 5G is a surveillance disaster). We are behind Russia on advanced military technology. Boeing was behind Airbus on airliner technology, and resorted to a quick fix that resulted in the 737 MAX 8 debacle. We have been behind Germany and Japan on vehicle manufacture for decades, and much of 'American" vehicle production is done in places like Brazil (Ford). Why would anyone want to invest in the US or hold dollars given this commercial inferiority?
The only reason the dollar has its current value is its tie to oil prices and its ability to sanction countries via the SWIFT system of economic payments. Let me repeat that. The dollar's value depends on financial gamesmanship, not the industrial base of the US. And the rest of the world is cutting itself free of these financial shackles as fast as possible.
Automation's Effect on the Crash
Automation will exacerbate the coming crash. TPTB are in love with automation and the so-called AI. The usual pie-in-the-sky claims for new technology have been rolled out. A glorious future has been painted. But, the elite enthusiasm is not really because these toys will work better than humans. Its because these toys will allow massive numbers of expensive human jobs to be eliminated, and they will enforce labor discipline on the lucky few who still have jobs. It will grow the pool of "useless eaters" to the point where euthanizing them seems worth consideration on a purely economic basis.
We already have Amazon's warehouses where automation is on the verge of eliminating the embarrassing brutal exploitation of workers. Factories are increasingly automated, although that's a moot point in the de-industrialized US. We have been automating airliners for decades, although the results are not encouraging.
The push for driverless cars and trucks (and drone delivery) goes on despite the obvious collision problems. (IMHO, the Chinese approach of completely separate and highly simplified rights of way for driverless cars is the way to go.)
While improbable applications like driverless cars are publicized, the dark side of AI is often ignored. The dark side is surveillance capitalism, black box scoring algorithms, and "social credit" schemes. When every move, interaction, and transaction is recorded, troublemakers will easily be identified and dealt with. East Germany will look like a Libertarian paradise in comparison to a full rollout of surveillance capitalism.
Setting aside the increasingly dubious internet of Surveillance Capitalism, the only "innovations" targeted at the working class over the past few decades are forms of looting: non-dischargable government-backed loans to students at outrageous interest rates, universities turned into predatory businesses with high-salaried C-suite officers, pensions replaced with 401Ks, insurance companies dictating medical coverages to doctors, NINJA mortgages followed by zero percent interest on deposits to whipsaw conservative small investors. All these "innovations" have driven us further towards a crash.
Environmental Destruction's Effect on the Crash
Although neoliberals and libertarians refuse to acknowledge it, the economy depends upon a functioning environment. And the Randian fanatics in charge have been trashing since before Ayn Rand was born. Its really ironic that the EPA was created by Richard Nixon, because the GOP have spent the last 50 years trying to destroy it and its "onerous" regulations. Most importantly, any regulation to do with fossil fuels (greenhouse gasses, fracking pollution, mountain-top mining) has been tied up in court cases and legislative interference. Meanwhile, the entire "climate change is a hoax" campaign has ramped up to a screech.
On other fronts, the destruction of insect populations by neonicotinoid pesticides (and the resultant collapse of bird species) is ignored and denied. The carcinogenic effects of glyphosphate herbicides is also denied, as is the impending development of super-weed resistance to those herbicides. The combination of massive crop losses due to weeds and loss of bee populations for pollination will add to our economic misery. But we are locked into our industrialized agriculture, which is based on fossil fuel-derived nitrogen fertilizer and the aforementioned chemicals. So there is no easy fix, even if we wanted to act separately on the agricultural dead-end we are in.
Basically, America has put its fingers in its ears on the climate, on clean water, and on mass extinctions. Trump tore up the already minimal Paris Climate Accord. Fracking gets a free pass, despite ground water pollution, massive earthquakes, bomb trains, and massive natural gas flareoffs.
The whole situation reminds me of a 4,500 year old human-made environmental catastrophe, chronicled by the late, great Jane Jacobs.
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (twin capital cities of an ancient empire of the Indus River valley) were marvelously developed to a point. But at some time before 2,500 B.C. development work had halted. They added no new goods or services from that time on, it seems, nor did they make any improvements in their old products. They simply repeated themselves. Their production must have been stupendous. The same standardized bricks were used in truly staggering quantities...the voracious wood fired kilns...produced so many identical pottery cups that...it may have been the custom to drink from a cup and then break it. One suspects they had more cups than they knew what to do with...
At length the Indus River at Mohenjo-daro became a lake of mud. (Just why is uncertain. I suspect that the immense destruction of forests, unremitting over a period of more than five centuries, to feed the mass-production brick and pottery kilns caused erosion and silting.) The mud flows engulfed the city and undermined many buildings. The people seem to have been incapable of any response that involved changed ways of doing things, or new ideas. After every mud flood they rebuilt exactly as before, with their interminable bricks, and the quality of the work deteriorated steadily until it was no longer done at all....The response to the mud floods was merely one dramatic symptom of the all-pervading stagnation.
- Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities (1969)
That America was following this path of thoughtless, sustained destruction of the environment was prominently catalogued at least 25 years ago by people such as James Kuntsler (The Geography of Nowhere (1993)) and Marc Reisner (Cadillac Desert (1986)).
Mohenjo-daro continued to chop down forests to make bricks and cups, even when mudslides wiped them out. In the same way, as long as there is oil and water, America refuses to change the auto-driven suburban and exurban buildout, refuses to fund mass transit or decent national passenger railroads, refuses to cut back on corporate agriculture practices that are ravaging the ecology. We will ruin entire states fracking for oil. We will draw down ground water aquifers that took millennia to fill for a few years worth of crops or, worse, to feed the fracking frenzy (which has never shown a profit and never will).
But the gauges on cheap water, cheap food, and cheap oil are pointing to empty these days. Desertification is spreading in sub-tropical regions like the Middle East. These environmental problems create economic problems, and that exacerbates the coming crash.
Why are TPTB allowing this to happen?
This question brings us back to the title of this essay: stupidity, arrogance, or an unwritten, deniable "final solution".
Its clear that TPTB are not trying to fix the climate, not dealing with ocean acidification or the plastic pollution/trash gyres. (AOC's Green New Deal is merely a grandstanding political statement, completely lacking in details about how they are going to fix problems in an economically feasible manner.) Furthermore, TPTB are pushing automation to dis-employ vast numbers of people, which can only make economic problems worse. The looting by financial capitalism shows no sign of abating short of a disastrous new crash.
Therefore, as cheap energy, food, and water become unobtainable, TPTB need to declare large portions of the world's population to be (in Jason Moore's sense of the word) "non-human" in order to use them as cheap and disposable labor - or (to preview the concept) to dispose of them via deniable famines, droughts, crop failures, and diseases. The rich will continue to have a nice life, everyone else will be Soylent Green.
If one were picking among the three reasons, one might argue that many low-information voters (both rich and poor) stupidly buy the anti-climate change propaganda, and that Wall St. arrogantly thinks it can continue to steal everything that isn't nailed down. But the rich always hire the smartest advisors.
And those advisors are telling them to buy land in Paraguay and Patagonia and New Zealand, to buy private islands in the middle of the Pacific. They are telling them to stock survival supplies (and guards) in abandoned missile silos and custom built bomb shelters. Now it may be that the 1%-ers who follow that advice are stupid (i.e., techno-libertarian suckers). And, short of a nuclear war, hiding out in a self-sufficient province in an out of the way place displays the typical arrogance of people who think they can buy their way out of (or into) anything.
But, let's just go full-blown pessimistic. Let's assume that the 1% are planning a slow-motion, non-nuclear "final solution" for the gross planetary overpopulation. Perhaps the lack of response to environmental problems is malign neglect, and not mere greed. Perhaps automation is merely an excuse to move people into the "non-human" category for massive exploitation.
But, going beyond neglect and exploitation, genetics has gotten to the point where custom-designed diseases are possible. There is a lot of alternative media attention to the US-run bioweapons lab in the country of Georgia (the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research), its weaponized insect vectors ("insect allies"), and the anomalous wheat diseases spreading in nearby China. There are multiple, well-documented reports of US trying to obtain "Russian DNA" and twenty year old reports of Israel looking for "Arab" genes. (Which is sort of hilarious since Jews and Arabs are both Semites.)
This concept, known as "the cull", postulates that the 1% realize they have gotten all they can out of mass consumerism, and they would like to lower the human population to about one billion in order to create a sustainable planet going forward. Of course, this idea is insane for reasons I will get into in a moment. But it is equal parts arrogant and stupid, and therefore exactly what we expect from the Davos crowd.
Why the cull can't possibly work
First, in case TPTB haven't noticed, the demagogues and ideologues they put in charge are hell-bent (literally) on starting a nuclear war. The Russians have served notice that any use of nukes against them, including these new super-low-yield nukes will result in full nuclear retaliation. That hasn't slowed the neocons down one bit.
Second, once the serious environmental consequences and/or plagues set in, do you think the rest of the planet is going to sit around and let these assholes hang out in South America and New Zealand? No. Armies, navies, and guided missiles will descend on these enclaves. There is no way TPTB have managed to bribe every army, navy, and air force to leave them safe. There is no way that some renegade demagogue doesn't decide to make a name for himself by attacking the "elect". More fratricidally, there is no way that a Chinese billionaire might not contract some military folks to nuke an American enclave - and vice versa. The billionaires are complete sociopaths. Killing each other for profit wouldn't trouble them at all.
Third, without a nuclear war, even mass plagues and crop failures would not reduce the population quickly enough to stop and reverse global CO2 levels below the critical point. And, climate change has a critical point. Once frozen methane from the arctic tundra and from deep ocean clathrates starts being released, a positive feedback loop ensues. Trying to stop a runaway greenhouse effect by lowering CO2 output is like trying to put out a house fire by getting rid of the burning match that set it off.
Fourth, even though a slow population/CO2 decrease would fail to prevent the critical point from being crossed, it would screw up any attempt by super-richies to be self-sufficient. The climate would be crazy. Who knows if said "safe havens" wouldn't become deadly due to new weather patterns or sea level rise? With insect populations cratering, is it certain that bee populations could be maintained for crop growth? With economics in chaos, how would they assure a continuous supply of fuel, fertilizer, and other industrial chemicals? Would they run their own semiconductor fabs for essential electronics replacement? Fabs need tons of specialty chemicals and parts.
We can't get 12 people in a Biolab dome to survive for two years, and yet we are going to make tens of thousands of billionaires, who never do a lick of work, self-sufficient for the forseeable future? Puh-leeze.
1. A crash is coming, and its unavoidable. It will be simultaneously economic, financial, and environmental.
2. TPTB are not taking action to deal with its consequences.
3. Any attempts by TPTB to hide out while the rest of the planet politely dies are doomed to fail.
So, my POV says that all us mugs can do is to wait for the crash, prepping as much as possible. The prepping includes becoming as self-sufficient as is reasonable; and most importantly, organizing while being surveilled as little possible. When the crash starts is the time to politically get rid of the current parasites that have ruined the world. Of course, TPTB have been practicing for civil unrest for twenty years. So they won't roll over just because its obvious they screwed the economic pooch - AGAIN. Its only after we get rid of them can we turn our attention to how to survive in the disastrous world they have bequethed to us.
That's how I see things, and insulting me isn't going to make me change my thoughts or my postings here. So, I invite people who disagree to come up with a different and brighter scenario that isn't a complete deus ex machina. But, its gotta have details, not just hopes.