It really is extraordinarily hard to get people’s heads around the list of items we need to be working on, right now, or even get their attention properly focused on them, even though we have plenty of indicators showing the situation to us. In some cases, they’re just smacking us over the head. People still avoid them, or react very badly.
It amazes me to see how more and more people go into a kind of bifurcation split away from reality, whether it’s some form of “it’s all good!” platitudes, denial, and delusion, or an opposite effect of full freakout.
We can have all kinds of indicators, but that doesn’t mean people will get the hints.
One regular periodic item that people regard as an economic indicator is the period release of official unemployment statistics. These are effectively useless in terms of giving anyone a real picture of the situation. If anyone does acknowledge that, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll find them still missing the point, and coughing out the repeated fiction that the official statistics leave out unemployed people who supposedly have “left the workforce” and “given up looking for work”. If people have completely run out of available unemployment insurance, they’re no longer officially counted as “unemployed” just because they’re no longer filing claims for benefits. Just because they’re no longer filing weekly claims and checking some form box to say “I looked for gainful employment this week” does not translate to “leaving the workforce” or “giving up looking for work”. They just become an official non-person.
In the latest news, I find that there is apparently a good chance of President Obama naming Larry Summers to be the new head of the Federal Reserve Bank after Ben Bernanke leaves, something that would be a terribly bad idea. Larry Summers was one of the people cheerleading the repeal of the Banking Act of 1933 (AKA “Glass-Steagall”) as something archaic and in the way of financial innovation, opening the door to all kinds of madness and misconduct. Summers was one of the people making public statements, in the guise of economic expert, telling Congress and the rest of the American public that the batch of incomprehensible complexity and general insanity of the contrivances of financial derivatives were not only not bad things, practices that needed no regulation, oversight, and accounting transparency, but were, according to Summers an engine of American prosperity and economic growth!
We got to 2008, and that whole house of cards imploded, a trainwreck that still has not been cleared away.
It’s hard to guess how many people know about Larry Summers. They get little help from the American “news media”. A day or two ago I caught a televised dog and pony show segment on CNN, part of the evening Erin Burnett infotainment hour.
The subject was the possibilty of Summers being named the next head of the Federal Reserve by President Obama. The first item was to mention that another possible candidate for the position was a woman, followed by several minutes of pointless inanity on the idea that this was a gender issue. After that, things moved on to mentioning that, apparently, an article on the Huffington Post site argued that Larry Summers would be a terrible choice to run the Federal Reserve. I have no idea what the article was, since they never gave viewers any other information. Apparently there are a few possibilities. There then followed a few more minutes of vacant idiocy that can be summarized and paraphrased as “but isn’t the Huffington Post a Liberal Media website devoted to praising and serving Liberal President Obama? are they being disloyal?“.
There was not a word of any relevant fact or reasoning about the question of whether Larry Summers would or would not be a good choice to be the head honcho of the Federal Reserve Bank. The punchline? This few minutes of vapid “discussion” involved five people.
This saga, which has to include noticing that as president, Barack Obama has had Larry Summers as one of his economic advisers, does not suggest encouraging thoughts about the chances of the president being interested and helpful in restoring sanity and the rule of law to the current insanity and fraud in banking and finance.
It’s becoming more important than ever for the American population as a whole to remember and restore the idea of investment in things and work of actual value, instead of the bizarre distortions and perversions of ideas of “investment” being some kind of casino games in getting something for nothing. We’ve seen what the latter has gotten us, and we’re still there.
There’s a great quote that comes to mind now and then:
It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it. -Upton Sinclair
A variation of the same general idea:
There is a tendency for people to become corrupted by necessities imposed by their careers. Truth can be unpalatable and harmful to professional self-interest. – Paul Craig Roberts
I think it’s fair to say there’s another principle at work these days, that’s in a similar vein to the above thoughts, which is, otherwise seemingly reasonably aware and intelligent people can seem to have an amazingly difficult time understanding anything that makes them uncomfortable.
All of the above probably applies to just about anybody embedded in the world of corporate America, but good luck getting that across to the people who fit the stuff. You’ll be running into impenetrable walls of cognitive dissonance there. But generally, you can find loads of people who are very prone to various levels of “it’s all good!” delusions about all manner of different facets of status quo, given sufficient circumstances of having money/house/cars/stuff to make them really really want to believe. A kind of flipside counterpart is people starting to get a bit of reality peeking through the fog, and realizing that maybe not all that is a permanent perpetual state of things, and going apeshit.
It’s almost too easy and veering close to simplistic cliché to attribute problems to greed. That’s certainly a core essential cause, people who operate on a basis that enough is never enough, no matter what problems and repercussions result, in the immediate present, the near future, and the long term.
There’s no great complex and incomprehensible mystery in understanding that endless permanent perpetual exponential growth of anything is not possible, whether it’s “economic growth”, or increasing consumption of finite physical material resources, or anything else.
Despite this, an overwhelming mass of people continue to fail to understand this. Even worse, some even hang on, with absolute fierce determination, to believing that this is not only possible, but that it’s a given, a natural state of things, something to be absolutely expected. This causes all kinds of problems, not the least of which is that this kind of mass detachment from reality and reason is effectively making people gradually and steadily go insane, literally fucking nuts.
There’s a bit of a clue to some things in an article from Time; Shifting Baselines: Why the Environment Is Even Worse Off Than You Think, subtitled When it comes to the ocean, we don’t know how good we used to have it.
The main theme there is how we manage to not even realize how bad the condition of the Earth has become, thanks to our relentless abuse. The more general lesson is that we might have some explanations about how so many people can seem so oblivious, just hopelessly obtuse, about just how incredibly serious some problems are, or for that matter, even that they are problems. People keep adjusting what they think is “normal”. Add to this, a tragic human flaw of people convincing themselves that any problem they can recognize is always somebody else’s fault, and we have a real mess.
Here in America, we’ve had a long stretch of behavior with people on a quest to have some McMansion house that’s oversized, and superficially impressive, whether or not they need anything like it, or it’s even nicely functional, and whether or not the cost makes any reasonable sense. More likely than not, these days, people are holed up in places that are sealed boxes of stale dead air, with climate control systems consuming massive amounts of energy to keep far too much volume of airspace at a constant 72 degrees F (or whatever they like) all year around, whatever the local weather is.
Many of these are located miles out from the local city center, with commutes and longs drives in their petroleum burning machines to get to work, school, and do anything. They figure that it’s all going to be powered cheaply in perpetuity by new “energy boom” miracles of shale natural gas and shale oil, even though both the shale gas and shale oil “booms” are nothing like what people are led to believe by all the hype.
Now, thanks to the financial house of cards, shell games, delusions, and frauds, the basic notion of a home for people is being undermined to an absolutely obscene degree. The irony here is was the triggering of this horror show by the financial trainwreck induced by the games of suburban sprawl, and bigger houses, and belief that “the housing market” was a cash machine of perpetually increasing wealth, the contrivances of “securitized mortgages” that stemmed from that, and the “financial innovation” of financial derivatives that stemmed from that.
After years of houses being treated as some kind of lucrative market trading commodity, we now have millions of people tossed out of their homes, with millions of homes left to rot by the banks holding them.
Roughly five years ago now, we had what people started calling the “subprime mortgage crisis”, which then became the “financial crisis”. We still sit in the wreckage of that, and it’s apparent that the majority of the American population still don’t know what happened. In a variety of cases, some people clearly believe, some people want to believe, or other people want people to believe, that this is a past event, that we’re now in “recovery”. More to the point, an awfully large portion of the population don’t know that we had warnings and indicators of the whole mess, well before it happened.
That included the warnings and explanations about crude oil that I’ve been over God knows how many times before, writing about all the information we have had in the past, and have coming in. The worldwide extraction rates of crude oil reached a wobbly plateau range around 2005 or so and have stayed there ever since, around 74 to 75 million barrels per day. In the summer of 2008, world crude oil prices went up to just short of $150/barrel, and the costs of this throughout everything where oil costs are involved, which means, well, everything, tripped the complex house of cards of mortgages, “mortgage securities”, and all the insane contrivances of the financial derivatives wound up in a huge ball of chaos waiting to happen, which then did.
We had warnings about our oil situation, we had warnings from people like Brooksley Born (who was promptly attacked by various power players including Larry Summers).
We have plenty of information around now telling us what we need to know.
Who will pay attention, understand it, and think and act accordingly?