Archive for June, 2009

Why Will it be a Tragedy?

June 25, 2009

Our protagonist of the Great Crash novel, Follow the Money, Barack Obama, has tied his star to a very weak and unreliable vessel. While he is making noble efforts to build a new way of running a GM kind of country, he has taken on too much for any one person to achieve. The compromised individuals he has gathered around him and appointed to his cabinet may well be the best he can find – but they are not adequate. I watch, breathless, for signs of his success in such a noble venture, but I cannot possibly be optimistic.

Leaving aside all the foreign policy disasters that threaten to drown him – the legacy of more than thirty years of cynical imperialist meddling – one has only to focus on the economic problems to recognise what a hopeless task he has taken on. As the excesses of credit for the last twenty years have turned the western economies into bubble economies, so the great leveler – debt – has punctured them. His administration officials are busy trying to cure a debt problem by creating huge new debts – they cannot possibly succeed.

The supposed signs of recovery in the stock markets are beginning to fray around the edges –as those observers who identified it as a bear rally forecast. That is not the tragedy. The gyrations of stock markets are no reliable indicator of the future or of the health of the real economy. As they have recently been too optimistic they will soon tumble headlong in fear and become too pessimistic. The US can recover but not by going farther into debt – the bubble economy has been built on credit and as I quoted here a couple of weeks ago – the Chinese have cancelled the US’s credit card.

Who will suffer from this? No doubt we all will if the Benanke-Geithner plan continues and builds up a huge inflationary overload. Welcome to the Weimar Dollar and hyperinflation when the monetarist policies get away from them. Monetarism needs to be buried deep – with a stake through its heart, and Keynsianism will likely prove incapable of correcting the problems that it created.

But let us say the policy of printing dollars works. Since it is already impossible for the US to repay its current debts it has only one way out of the jam – printing almost worthless dollars to pay off the creditors with. So – who suffers most? The creditors, of course, as well as all the generations who will follow the current profilgate scoundrels into a severely compromised future. That means your kids and grandkids – and their kids.

The only source of value in human society is people. Not dollars, not oil, not capital, not gold – only well educated, well adjusted, healthy and wise people. And lord knows – the present generations have proved themselves incapable of raising them. Maybe I should repeat that for those who are so quick to dismiss the idea and prefer to cling to their current idols. People are the only renewable resource we have, and are the only measure of value in human society. Bankrupting them – before most are even born – is a crime commited against posterity.

That’s why Obama cannot possibly be any more than a hero of tragedy – another Othello – because if he succeeds, he fails.

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Dream Realm Awards

June 22, 2009

Hi All:                                                                     dra08_finalist

Just a quick note — my retrofuturist novel “Arrival” has been selected as a finalist in the 2009 Dream Realm awards for 2009.

I will be able to add the logo to this site and be able to continue regular posts here when I leave the city this week.

Now for the Good News.

June 13, 2009

In fiction, and especially in tragedy, the plot cannot be unidirectional – the protagonist must have a fighting chance to win, so the reader roots for him/her right up to the last line. The nemesis also is not certain of victory. So for this look at the plot of our novel “Follow the Money” about the great crash of 2009, we want to suppose our hero, Barack Obama (an Othello of tragedy if ever there was one) comes out smelling like a rose. At least until the final act.

You may wonder how, after I have posted two months worth of naysaying on this blog, I can possible point to the possibility of an ending that promises hope for the future. The simplest way is to pinpoint the hopes and manipulations of the worst of the antagonists and have our protagonist set them up for a fall. The Cairo speech (even though it was only words, and means nothing without the appropriate actions) has hinted that our man has the moxie to strand his opponents out on a limb – and hopefully to cut it off from under them. (This last has yet to be done, but I wait expectantly.)

So we might believe the financial speculators and creators of all the toxic inventions in the derivatives box will want to see the financial rules and markets left untouched to build up into a bubble once more (or twice, thrice, or a hundred times more). Their only interest being to use the market to get rich without actually working for it. They must be foiled and completely destroyed. Since it is unlikely that spineless Democrats in Congress and the Senate will ever have the integrity to pass legislation that accomplishes this plainly and in full public view, our protagonist will have to be really devious in creating an outcome where this happens as a result of the market’s own operation.

The rich – and I mean the super rich, not you hopeful fools who still hope to make your first million – have been allowed to grow immensely richer since the last stock market crash and depression from 1929 into the 30s. You may well believe that the billionaires at the top 2% of our economic tree who own 50% of the wealth will want to ensure that their interests will be protected and their tax shelters and non-existent wealth taxes will remain as active for them in the future, as they have been through all of the last 10 administrations. For society to recover on a new and more positive track – they must be totally disappointed. As the world learned when Revolutionary France sent all the super rich to the guillotine – society can bumble along without them no less efficiently than it did with. (The French Revolution was the precursor to most of our Western freedoms.)

To expand on that – it is axiomatic that capitalist society depends upon its ‘consumers’ (how I hate that word) to not only produce the goods and services that bump up GDP, but they must be wealthy enough to be the purchasers of those goods and services. This no longer happens in the US and other economies where the top few on the economic pyramid grasp the bulk of the wealth for themselves. The result is an unstable economy where consumption has to be financed by credit – read debt – and huge unemployment and hardship is caused when the equity dries up. As it has done with the collapse of the US and UK house price bubbles. It would be wildly utopian to imagine Washington would strike out on a new path to increase the wages and lower the taxes of citizens (now there’s the inclusive word that has dignity) who work, save, invest, and produce the wealth of society, but somehow the dead wood within the Beltway must be tricked into agreeing to exactly that.

I’ll end this post with a little homily. In Britain, towards the end of the Second World War, the people who had endured the hardships and the sacrifices of six years as cogs in the huge war machine were invited to vote in a General Election. To the immense surprise of almost everyone, including that of those kicked out of government, the war leader who everyone presumed was a sure winner, Winston Churchill and his Conservatives, lost to the Labour Party under the completely uncharismatic Clement Atlee.

To those who had served under the British system of privilege and the old-boy network for those years it was no surprise. The vestiges of that parody of democracy were still evident fifteen years later when I did my stint in the army, but it had been cut off at the knees and was merely taking time to die. (Until Thatcher gave it artificial resuscitation.) The biggest millstones that the socialist government took from around the necks of the British were three, and they were all undercut by one measure. Pre-war Britain was still a fief of the wealthy land owning class – the lords and ladies – who had been weakened by the First World War but not knocked out for the count. They owned a huge percentage of the land and of the infrastructure that people – and the new capitalists – needed to control in order to build new industries.

This archaic hold-over was hewn down by the huge death duties passed into legislation by the Labour dominated Parliament. In order to pay these assessments upon the deaths of Lord Soandso, and the Earl of Somewherelse, these holdings that sometimes stretched back to Norman times had to be liquidated. I saw the changes in my own life as I grew up. The first noticeable effect was the transformation of the drab villages around us – where everyone used to be a tenant of the local aristocrat – when the tenants were given the opportunity to buy and improve their dwellings. The second was an expansion of the freedom to trade land as freehold property instead of leasehold (buying land before 1945 was a case of buying a lease term of some years on the land, which remained the property of the aristocratic estate). This freed up more real estate for development. The third was the Butler Education Act which opened all higher education to low income students who were bright enough to win scholarships. I owe my own education to this act – as do almost all those educated there in the past sixty years – the Stephen Hawkings and the  Francis Cricks, as well as a significant number of the engineers who flooded into US industry after 1955..

Death duties are the godsend of society. Set at the appropriate level they are the rejuvenator of a moribund economy and the resuscitator of a moribund establishment. Everything in nature dies to make room for the new and the healthy – societies need this too.

Double Dragon Authors do it Again

June 8, 2009

BOTYA Winner GraphicI Share in an Award.

The authors with Double Dragon Publishing have produced four – so far – anthologies of their short stories. These collections have all won awards or recognitions of excellence. I was privileged to have short stories in Twisted Tales II (Time on Our Hands) and Twisted Tales III (Pure Fear). This last named was recently given an Honorable Mention as a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards.

I certainly cannot claim more credit than any of the other contributors, but I feel that I held up my end – particularly as I don’t consider myself a short story writer. The other authors in Pure Fear are Kim McDougall, Marilyn Peake, John Klawitter, Geoff Nelder, J Richard Jacobs (also Ed.), Ann Dulhanty, Ginny Davis, Biff Mitchell, K L Nappier, Brandon Berntson, and A J Chaboya.

Usually, I cannot satisfy my fictional images with less than 90,000 words, so writing something around 2500 requires an extra effort for me. Although both anthologies I had stories in won recognition – Time on our Hands won the Eppie for anthology last year – I decided not to contribute to the latest edition. My stories worked to a degree, but I feel I’d need to go back to the writing school in order to produce something a cut above, and I’m more at home with novels.

Anyway – congratulations to us – especially the other authors represented.

Misallocation of Everything

June 5, 2009

Following our supposed novel of the 2007-8 great crash as an epic tragedy with Barack Obama as Othello we go next to the underlying causes of what happened and compare his administration’s policies to rectify things with what should be done. So before we proceed with the plot – what he does once he gets all the secret memos that first day in the White House and acts – we need to look at some neutral person’s explanation to bring ourselves up to speed.

Why are investment communities around the world reducing their purchases of US Treasury bonds – do they fear something the administration is doing? In order to structure the plot of our possible novel “Follow the Money” we need to find out.

First we might ask Doug Noland, a market strategist for the Prudent Bear Funds.
“It is more certain, however, that the great benefits commanded to our economy and markets over the decades from governing the world’s reserve currency are drawing to an end. Our policymakers still believe they can inflate credit and manipulate interest rates – and not have to pay a price for it. But the new global reality may be that currency markets will protest against massive US fiscal deficits and activist monetary policy, while global markets come to dictate US market yields. Over the past two weeks, we have seen the dollar and US Treasuries/MBS come under significant pressure. Is this the beginning of global markets disciplining Washington?”

The following comes from another article in Asia Times Online. This one by W Joseph Stroupe, a strategic forecasting expert and editor of Global Events Magazine.

“Bigger trouble looms, regardless of this Wall Street rally and other “green shoots”. Geithner’s toxic asset removal plan hasn’t worked yet, and it and other government plans face huge obstacles. Fears over the size of US debt are swiftly mounting, while China has “cancelled our credit card”, according to US Senator Mark Kirk, referring to the fact that China’s investors have radically slowed their purchase of US Treasury bonds in the past three months.”

“Income-based model versus asset-based model
At fundamental issue here is the new asset-based economic/financial model (as contrasted with a traditional income-based model) which the US and Britain in particular have progressively adopted over the past couple of decades, and whether that new model is really workable and revivable in the light of its massive collapse that began with the emergence of the subprime crisis in late July of 2007.

The US economy has rapidly converted from a traditional, income-generating machine to a so-called “new economy”, an asset-inflating one. An income-generating machine derives wealth from the production and sale of goods and services, while an asset-inflating one derives wealth from accelerated asset appreciation, or targeted inflation of assets – in other words, by the creation of serial asset bubbles. In this new model, traditional wealth generation takes a back seat to “paper” wealth generation via serial asset bubble creation.

In the traditional income-based economic model, the financial sector serves to support the real economy, where the vast bulk of real income is generated, by providing credit and other traditional financing services aimed at sustaining existing and fostering new income-generating business ventures, and supporting consumer spending via traditional credit services. The income generated in the financial sector is not of major proportions, but is a distant second to that generated in the real economy.

The asset-based model is radically different. In this new model, innovative and grandiose opportunities arise for the generation of gigantic sums of “paper” wealth from within the financial sector itself, thanks to what can only be called the fostering of an incestuous relationship between government and Big Finance.”

In the pre-Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney days the Western economic model was one where we made things if we needed them. We saved up for them (at least in part) if we wanted to buy them, and we cautiously built up our nest-eggs for a possible rainy day. That all went by the board when the three irresponsible idiots named above went to work.

We no longer needed to dig coal, or smelt iron, or build things in factories – we sent all that overseas for others to do the dirty work. We wouldn’t want to soil our manicured hands or wrinkle our Armani suits, would we? If we wanted to become rich we merely found enough suckers to buy our invented derivatives and lived off the proceeds. It worked for awhile, but now the suckers and the poor devils in the dirt, working for peanuts, are wising up.

What have we done with our greatest resource –  the manpower, woman power, and brain power of our recent generations? We have misallocated it all.

A couple of examples. European and Japanese autos have become technologically far superior to those built in North America and there is one prime reason for that. While the others employed their most brilliant and creative technology graduates in automobile engineering, the US shunted them into another industry that produces nothing of social value – the military-industrial complex. Instead of producing super-reliable energy efficient autos they are creating computer game military hardware that can murder around the world remotely from the safety of Langley, Virginia. Today, the bright and ambitious never even study in disciplines where work is done and things made – all they know is how to code computer games, to dream up even more exotic ‘investment’ schemes, and to produce ever more complex and fragile IT systems.

Why hasn’t the Obama administration taken steps to put our society back on the rails – employing our graduates to build, to create, to save? Because the people he has appointed wouldn’t know what to do with such graduates – even if such appropriately trained ones existed. If we, the public, are looking for some bright and creative brains to pull our societies out of this mess – we might have to look to someone else.

So, while Othello is spending his effort at shoring up the last gasp of the asset model with every phoney dollar he can print, the underlying rot is getting worse. What likely time-scale will this work out over? Everyone whose forecasts seem credible admit that this is almost impossible to predict. The current bear rally may last until the end of 2009 and everyone credit the US administration with saving the ‘world’, but down in the basement the termites are still munching away. If, under the worst possible scenario, Othello manages to create a new phony dollar bubble so that asset prices once again attain completely unrealistic heights – the whole shebang may not crash again for five years or more. But that crash will be an even bigger disaster than this. That’s great for a novel – a humdinger of an ending – but not so good for the people left to pick up the pieces.