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Tue

28

Aug

2007

Back to School - James Kunstler
Tuesday, 28 August 2007 12:53
by James Kunstler

Bad financial paper, like rust, never sleeps.

We may be in the traditional torpor zone of late summer when the whole nation takes off on vacation, but worms are still turning in the compost heaps of securitized alphabet debt (MBSs, CDOs, CLOs, et cetera) behind the glass banking towers in places like Wall Street, London, Frankfurt, and Shanghai, and the odor from all this garbage blowing 'round the world grows stronger by the day.

Transfusions of loss-cover-loans from the Federal Reserve have enabled the The Big Fund Boyz to spend a last weekend or two rubbing elbows in the Hamptons with transcendent beings like Diddy and Kelly Ripa. The Boyz gather along the dunes at twilight, bongs in hand, to gaze at Hedge Fund Island, looming off-shore in the gray Atlantic mist, and they notice something alarming: the island, which the BFB's built themselves over the past ten years, seems to be either floating out to sea or perhaps just sinking!

The scores of billions of dollars and euros that central banks have poured into the maw of losses lately will only paper over the essential problem for another few weeks, at most. The damage to global structured finance has been done, and it can be stated rather precisely: a widespread recognition that it's not possible to get something for nothing, after all. And that when you hold a lot of paper that was gotten for nothing, and put it up for sale, nothing will be offered for it. What a surprise.

The task of people holding power now in the finance sector (which itself may be a conceit at this point) is to manage the rapid dissolution of hallucinated wealth in such a way that as few people as possible notice that x-trillions in dollar denominated pixels have vanished from the hard drives. Sooner or later, though, millions of shlubs dependent on pension checks, or annuities, or monthly payouts of one kind or another will notice that something has stopped landing in the mail box. Re-po men with bad haircuts and tattoos will be driving other peoples' cars to the auction barn.

Young people accustomed to thrilling paydays will discover that their services are no longer required in the mortgage origination business, and will instead have to memorize dozens of excruciating formulas for different sorts of beverages more or less based on coffee. Millions of realtors will enter second childhoods as they move back in with Mommy and Daddy, who themselves must now change their plans, since it is no longer possible to flip the 1956-vintage raised-ranch in Hempstead to buy that half-million condo in Maui.

Reality is biting hard. As with the little marmot caught in the Gray Wolf's jaws of death, the body simply surrenders and God's grace of physical shock softens the translation from free-willed joyful creature to dead meat. That is where we are at here in the final days of August, 2007. Digestion follows. The Big Fund Boyz and all their minions will end up as mere worm castings in the aforementioned global compost heaps.

Terrible shocks are going to rip through the socioeconomic fabric of the USA as we turn the corner past these late summer doldrums. The fiasco of bad debt won't be contained. The choices for those who find themselves financially underwater in the fall of 07 will be 1.) liquidation, 2.) bankruptcy, or 3.) destroy whatever remains of confidence in the US dollar in order to erase debt by hyperinflation. People holding power don't like the first two, which translate into Depression (let's make it capital "D.") When a nation turns into a fire sale from sea to shining sea, and bankrupt citizens don't even have enough cash-on-hand to buy things desperately cheap — well, that's a Depression. Everybody from Fed officials to news editors have favored the softer term "recession" the past half century because it implies a mere pause in the inexorable march of progress toward economic nirvana. That's not what we're heading into.

There will be so many assets up for sale across the USA in the months and years ahead that the very sun in the heavens will take on a K-Mart blue-light-special glow. Houses with miles of granite countertops, Maybach automobiles, cabin cruisers that burn thirty gallons of diesel an hour, and much much more. There will be so much slightly used (or barely "pre-owned") stuff for sale that manufacturing another unit of anything (or importing it) will seem like a sick joke. Alas, there may be very few buyers, at least here among the current natives of North America. And so you get "new pricing," and a deadly downward spiral.

Of course, all that creates a problem for the masses of human beings who theoretically support themselves by working to produce new things of value to be bought and sold .

But let them watch Nascar!
 


Let's take whatever little remains of our tax revenues (or bonding ability) and build a dozen more speedway ovals around the country, and tweak the stock car engines so those suckers can run on ethanol, and shower the fans with Little Debbie snack cakes as they count the laps.

Bring on Britney Spears or Paris Hilton at half-time (do they have half-time in Nascar?) and let Justin Timberlake cut their hearts out on the hood of a Dodge Avenger. Believe me, the public will be so deliriously entranced by the spectacle, they won't notice anything else going on in the background of our nation.

This is how America enters the Long Emergency — in a Nascar rapture, with Jesus directing the pit crews and the Holy Ghost working the barbeque concession.

I apologize for what has been a rather excessive spewage of mixed metaphors this week, but the extreme abnormality of events has just got me going. The bottom line, though, is simple and straightforward: things may appear normal for the moment, but we are heading into a shit-storm as sure as Sam Walton's descendents contracted to buy all the three-ringed loose-leaf binders made west of the international date line. America, you're about to go back to school the hard way.

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a guest said:

0
Stock cars do run on ethanol or a mix - I think that's where they got the idea
But it burns really fast and hot.

I loved your article so very much.
Thanks,
Steph
 
August 28, 2007
Votes: +0

Jimmy Montague said:

Jimmy Montague
It's starting to look like you're right, Jim.
For a while there last week I thought the fix was in on Wall Street. Now it looks once again like a crash in the offing -- at this moment she's 280 points below where she was when I woke up this morning. I'm glad I got my life savings invested in rabbit shit and night crawlers. I can raise tomatoes and go fishing while the rest of the world goes south.
 
August 29, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

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