The Great Wish across America is to resume the life of comfort-and-convenience that seemed so nirvana-like just a few short years ago, when the very constellations of the heavens might have been renamed after heroic Atlanta realtors and Connecticut hedge fund warriors, and the boomer portfolios groaned with earnings, and millions of graying corporate salary mules dreamed of their approaching retirement to a satori of golf and Viagra, and the interior decorators grew so rich installing granite countertops that they could buy their own houses in the East Hampton, and every microcephalic parking valet in Las Vegas qualified for a bucket full of Ninja mortgages, and Lloyd Blankfein could dream of divorcing his wife to marry his cappuccino machine.
The choices now are stark and the kind of life on offer by the future is rather austere. The job of the current president, and the people who work with him, is to manage an epic contraction -- let's say, to land a very large, loaded defect-ridden airplane that has both run out of fuel and suffered grievous mechanical breakdown... and to bring down that vehicle in an unfamiliar country filled with angry savages. Sadly, the new president and his co-pilots just want to keep the plane up there, circling. The president's viziers are working round-the-clock to come up with some way, some toggle-switch, that might turn off the laws of gravity (which are not unrelated to the laws of thermodynamics). But all they seem to be able to come up with are mumbled prayers that are pale imitations of the algorithms once concocted by the Wall Street engineers who designed the aircraft they're riding in.
And get more specific with this:
The president is playing with fire on all this. The old economy is not going to recover, and so far he has not used his rhetorical talents to articulate what the next economy is likely to be about. It is reasonable to wonder whether he even really has a clear sense of it -- and, based on the fatuous utterances of his economic mandarins like Larry Summers and Austan Goolsby, this team is really behind the curve.
There are plenty of things you can state about the economy past and future with some confidence right now:
-- Cheap energy is over and our wishes for alt.energy are currently inconsistent with reality, meaning we have to live differently.
-- We have to downscale and re-localize our major economic activities: food production, commerce and manufacturing, banking, schooling, etc.
-- We can't hope to have a stable money system unless we allow a workout of unpayable debt to proceed.
-- Even if we can do this, universal easy credit is a thing of the past. From now on, we have to save for the things we want and run our businesses and households on accounts receivable.
-- Major demographic shifts are inevitable as it becomes necessary to let go of suburbia and reactivate our derelict towns and smaller cities (and allow our giant metroplexes to contract).
-- We have to face the truth that our major social contracts cannot be met, namely the continuation of social security as we know it and probably all pension arrangements. We'll probably have to change household arrangements to make up for these losses.
-- Health care will have to go through a revolution more comprehensive than just changing how we pay for it. Like everything else, it will have to downscale, re-localize, and become more rigorous.
We're not going to rescue the banks. The collateral for their loans is no good and it will only lose more value. All those tract houses on the cul-de-sacs of America and scattered on the out-parcels of our tragically subdivided farming landscape will only lose value, one way or another, in the years ahead. Right now they're simply losing inflated cash value -- and that has been bad enough to sink the banks. In the months and years ahead, they'll lose their sheer usefulness as the distances once mitigated by cheap gasoline loom larger again, and the jobs vanish and incomes with them, and the supermarket shelves cease to groan with eighty-seven different varieties of flavored coffee creamers, and one-by-one the national chain stores shutter, and the theme parks, and the Nascar ovals, and the malls, and the colossal superfluous cretin-cargo of consumer nonsense that we've been daydreaming in gets blown away in a hurricane of change that we were not ready to believe in.
Sobering stuff. While I think he's a bit of a curmudgeonly pessimist, I think his forecast is closer to reality than you'll hear from a politician or the media. They're all too heavily invested in a return to the old system, and will refuse to recognize the failure of its return even if we revert to living in caves—"build that new kitchen with a cave equity loan!"
The most disappointing thing in all of this is that surely Obama is smart enough to know this—and it is even more certain that the country as a whole is too fucking dumb to handle the truth.