Monday, August 05, 2013
Kunstler: The Dreadful Summer Wind
by James Howard Kunstler
The world is swiftly moving to the dangerous place where nations won’t be able to do business with each other because they don’t trust the institutions that control wealth, which includes central banks, commercial banks, and governments. It will happen when the purveyors of international commodities, oil especially, refuse to accept the letters of credit issued by untrustworthy intermediaries. And when that dark moment arrives, nations will throw tantrums. The USA may be the loudest baby in the playpen.
The USA is veering into a psychological space not unlike the wilderness-of-mind that Germany found itself in back in the early 20th century: the deep woods of paranoia where our own failures will be projected onto the motives of others who mean to do us harm. Of course, even paranoiacs have enemies. There are quite a few others who would like to harm the USA, at least to bamboozle and paralyze us, to push back against our influence on their culture and economies. But the tendency here will be to magnify the supposed insults while ignoring our own suicidal behavior.
Historians will remark that it was a beautiful August with bright days and cool nights for sleeping, and the Hamptons were ablaze with self-satisfied egos, and that nobody was paying attention to all the mischief that was set in motion the previous spring, not to mention the many seasons of bad behavior that preceded it. And when they returned from vacation, lo, the world was in crisis. What a surprise.
The USA cannot come to terms with the salient facts staring us in the face: that we can’t run things as we’ve set them up to run. We refuse to take the obvious actions to set things up differently. Instead, we’ve tried to offset the accelerating losses of running our unrunable stuff with accounting fraud, aimed at pretending that everything still works. But the accounting fraud has only accelerated the gathering disorder in the banking system. That disorder has infected our currency and the infection is spreading to all currencies. What a surprise that the first pandemic to strike an overstressed global immune system was not bird flu after all, but a sickness of money.
Near the center of that money sickness was the blitzkrieg against gold and silver in the spring, when arrant serial selling dumps were executed against the money metals to un-money them. The net result was only that a lot of that ancient money flowed from the places pretending it was valueless to the places that never adopted that pretense. At stake in that rather massive movement was the supposed value of the other stuff that pretended to hold value, namely sovereign bonds, and especially the treasury paper issued by the USA. After all, US Treasury bonds and notes were, in the eyes of bankers, the functional equivalent of cash-in-hand. Alas, the world was starting to choke on it — not least the US central bank itself, which had been gorging at the monthly auction buffet for years and was now stuffed to the gills. In fact, it had grown too fat to even leave the room where the buffet had been set up.
Anyway you look at it, there is no escape from the looming crisis of confidence. The “primary dealer” banks and commodity exchanges behind the spring gold smash are out of tricks and out of gold to play tricks with. Their partner, the US Government has two tricks left: confiscation of gold in private hands a la Franklin Roosevelt’s ploy of 1933, or punitive taxes on private sales of gold. What worked in 1933 might not go over so well now, in a land full of preppers armed to the teeth and long-simmered in gall. It brings to mind the bumper-sticker about prying things from people’s cold dead hands. As for the tax gambit, I venture to say that many holders of gold hold it in expectation that there may shortly be no effective government left to depend on to do the wrong thing. Meanwhile, over in the land of paper wealth, the interest rate on the 10-year US Treasury bond clicks up a basis-point here, a basis-point there, like a remorselessly rising sea level. It won’t take many more clicks to put, for instance, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York under water.
I felt sorry for President Obama, going about the country trying to appear historically heroic without doing a damn thing, really, to face down to the monsters in our own midst. But then one hears the rumor of Larry Summers’ imminent appointment to chair the Fed, and it is no longer possible to feel sorry for Obama, but rather to feel sorry for the nation laboring under such a conclave of would-be wizards.
I just don’t see how the world financial system doesn’t blow up this fall, when the digested remains of the last miso-glazed oyster tidbit passes through the cloacal fundament of the prettiest girl in Sag Harbor. When it does blow, at least the NSA will have its prepared “to-do” list, and then perhaps all the unemployed can be enlisted at $8 an hour to harass the rest of the people trying to go about their daily lives. The roar you hear in the distance this September will be the sound of banks crashing, followed by the silence of business-as-usual grinding to a halt. After that, the crackle of gunfire.