Now that Lawrence Summers has removed himself from consideration as Federal Reserve chairman, President Obama is free to launch him into Syria as the first human rehypothecation weapon of mass destruction, where he can sow enough confusion between Assad’s Alawites and the Qaeda opposition to collateralize both factions into contingent convertible capital instruments buried in the back pages of Goldman Sachs’s balance sheet so that the world will never hear of them again — and then the Toll Brothers can be brought in to develop Syria into a casino / assisted living complex that will bring hundreds of good jobs to US contractors in the region.
No doubt the stock markets will fly like eagles today. Nobody knew what monkeyshines Mr. Summers might have pulled over at the Fed and it was making investors nervous, as well as the big banks who employed Mr. Summers occasionally as some kind of policy bagman. So a big sigh of relief blew over the Northeast Region of the nation like the gusts of autumn air that swept away a fetid hump of stale, wet tropical weather that ruined all the ladies’ party hair in the Hamptons this month.
Now that Syria has been disposed of — that is, indefinitely consigned to failed state purgatory — the world can focus its remaining attention on the almighty taper. I’m with those who think we’ll get a taper test. That is, the Fed will cut back ten or fifteen percent on its treasury bond purchases to see what happens. What happens is perfectly predictable: interest rates shoot above 3 percent on the ten-year and holders of US paper all the world round fling them away like bales of smallpox blankets and… Houston, we’ve got a problem. After a month (or less) of havoc in the bond market, and the housing market, Mr. Bernanke will issue an advisory saying (in more words than these) “just kidding.” Then it will be back to business as usual, which is to say QE Forever, which might as well be saying “game over.”
One must feel for poor Mr. Bernanke. He’s tried to run a long-distance foot-race against reality and now it’s breathing down his neck near finish line. The idea was to pump enough artificial “money” into the economy to give it the appearance of motion, but all he accomplished in the words of my recent podcast guest, Eric Zencey, was a commotion of money, and the commotion was pretty much limited to a few blocks of lower Manhattan, two ribbons of real estate running up the East Side and Central Park West, and a subsidiary disturbance out on the South Fork of Long Island. Everybody else in the country was left to stew in a tattoo-and-malt-liquor torpor at the SNAP Card application office.
The Fed can only pretend to try to get out of this self-created hell-hole. The stock market is a proxy for the economy and a handful of giant banks are proxies for the American public, and all they’ve really got going is a hideous high-frequency churn of trades in conjectural debentures that pretend to represent something hidden in the caboose of a choo-choo train of wished-for value — and hardly anyone in the nation, including those with multiple graduate degrees in abstruse crypto-sciences, can even pretend to understand it all.
When reality crosses the finish line ahead of poor, exhausted Mr. Bernanke, havoc must ensue. All the artificial props fall away and the so-called American economy is revealed for what it is: a surreal landscape of ruin with nothing left but salvage value. Very few people will get a living off of the salvage operations, and there will be fights and skirmishes everywhere by one gang or another for control of the pickings. The utility of money itself may be bygone, along with the legitimacy of anyone or anything claiming institutional authority. This is what comes of all attempts to get something for nothing.
By the way, for those of you still watching the charts, notice that gold and silver may bob up and down week-by-week, but the price of oil remains stubbornly above $105-a-barrel no matter what happens. That is the only number you need to know to predict the fate of industrial economies. [Emphasis mine.--P.Z.]