Updated: Apr 29, 2020
SAME AS IT EVER WAS
So in trying to navigate and make sense of what is happening to us as a species I feel trapped in a conundrum. On the one hand we have a worldwide crisis that has resulted in countries creating the most colossal national debts in history. It is necessary to keep the economy ticking over while we find a way to keep going after the pandemic eases. The numbers are staggering. Hundreds of trillions? Is that possible? Depending on how you define a trillion (there are two definitions: 12 zeroes and 18 zeroes) governments across the world are printing money, or more accurately transferring numbers between themselves and those who issue loans. And a lot of numbers!
This debt will eventually have to be paid back to someone (or not). Who is lending the money? Well, we say central banks, but then we have the idea that debt bonds are bought up by “other players” and then that money is owed to an actual someone at the end of the line. Or a group of someones, whatever, it’s not a big group.
In reading various publications like the Economist and the IMF blog pages we can see that the real question is coming around to How will this debt be managed? Will we (they) go Keynesian (government controls the economy) and raise taxes on the wealthy, who primarily will get the lion share of the payouts of the ‘stimulus’ packages? That’s kind of what happened after World War 2 and it more or less worked for a while. I think they got the debt ratios cut by almost half in 25 years. Also the big crisis of 2008, remember that? Just some good old fashioned ponzi scheming, but it really caused a big bump. A lot of that went into bonuses for corporate chairs. Sure, there will be some spent on the working class (to use an old term) and they will have their taxes raised to be sure, but if we look at the way the last few crises were handled, its not likely to happen that progressive taxation will even be tried. It may wind up that we are just going to be in debt to the lords of the land forever (Freidman’s Monetarist policies)…if we survive the pandemic intact as a species.
What I am reflecting on is how we are somehow addicted to trusting our economic systems. No matter how weird things get we all just seem to go along believing that there is no alternative but to try and get back to something that wasn’t really working for everyone very well at all anyway. In fact things were getting so out of balance we screwed the climate up! Our democracies at best have given us the power to elect leaders. Why do we do that? Isn’t it leadership that has screwed us up to the point that we think that’s what democracy is? We get to choose our masters? Then we can just sit back and go to work. Wait. What? What a terrible choice we have made in most instances. Terrible for ourselves! The big problems of the world, the real problems, like climate change, like poverty, like homelessness, like criminality being in charge of governments, are never dealt with directly. The amount of money being doled out to large corporations (which have majority shareholders) that want to continue as usual is astronomical. If we spent that amount on the above list of problems, we would solve them all. I mean, the big block to climate change solutions is always that it costs too much. Well, here’s the dough to fix that. Solve homelessness, probably only 20 billion. Starvation, poverty, ….well, you get the picture. But we are sold the idea that the good old boys of the country club set are the ones who know what to do because, well, they’re rich. They must know what they are doing right? Right. They do know what they are doing. They just don’t care about the consequences that are the negative side of the social balance sheet. Social distancing is not new. Its been around a long time. That’s why the term was changed recently to physical distancing. Because our real addiction is to being led by thieves and scoundrels, for centuries, we are unlikely to find the will to change what’s needed. Our economic value system. The way that we govern ourselves.
Maybe this virus is like the one that caused us to develop memory? Maybe we will have a true Darwin moment and come out of this new and improved, like a history from Star Trek or something. Or not. Perhaps we can’t find the guts to stand up and say to our masters, enough. I don’t mean the masters that I speak of above, but the one inside our heads that says, maybe we can be green but still drive our cars and have tons of energy sucking gadgets, and fly around the world when we want to and keep buying more stuff than we need or will ever need. Maybe we can find a way to realign our priorities to be inclusive of others rather than just be satisfied with being satiated. Maybe we can stop ourselves handing power back to the guys that caused us to get to the brink of extinction. Sure, we all take tacit responsibility for that by living in this economic funhouse, but we really are responsible for it. Problem is that when we realize that and want to do something to fix it, we hit the cycle of the economy based on crisis and we look for a saviour in the form of great leadership. We let our leaders put that money out there, which is right, except that most of it will wind up in offshore accounts somewhere belonging to the usual gang of crooks that we politely refer to as oligarchs. We are addicted to that because…we are addicted to them. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Chairmen, Czars and Bosses. And they mostly all live in palaces. And if we just try a little harder, we too can have a piece of that…if we just learn how to find our place we can get some of the trickle-down. (Friedman again). What’s different about that and being the slave who can eat what falls from the master’s mouth before the dogs get it? Now I can hear the retorts warming up. What a complainer! Be happy with what you have! You can’t fix the world. That last one really gets me laughing some days, and crying others. After all, isn’t it fixed already? I don’t mean to sound so negative, but it is very difficult to try to make sense of just how stupid we have been. Isn’t it time that we try a different way of living together and sharing the load and the rewards of working hard. We have the inventions and we have the resources and the technology but we don’t have the will to toss off the yoke of relative success. Shouldn’t we try to find a better way of distributing the bounty of this planet more equitably?
We tread along the Mobius strip of the 21-century human, which in some future culture (not us) will be looked upon as under the spell of a mass delusion that they were invincible and helpless at the same time. “Same as it ever was” (Talking Heads)