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Thu

20

Sep

2007

Shocked, Shocked! James Howard Kunstler
Thursday, 20 September 2007 18:02
by James Howard Kunstler

Alan Greenspan's memoirs are being flogged across the airwaves, bandwidths and printing presses, and the cohort of those who comment on public affairs in these media are shocked by the Maestro's confessions — first, that a housing bubble emerged out of his leadership in the banking sector, and second that the Iraq war is about oil. As usual, they're getting it all wrong — about as wrong as Al himself got it. But that is the way of things in this age of cultural dissipation and gross cognitive dissonance.

Greenspan claims he had no idea that his cutting of interest rates to near zero would produce any irregularities in the US economy. Apparently he hadn't noticed that the Big Fund Boyz called him "Easy Al" for a reason. Or that when you introduce nearly free "money" (as in "available for lending") into a system of financial trade, the recognition of risk tends to evaporate. As the nation's chief bank regulator, Greenspan also apparently failed to notice the upsurge in dodgy lending practices previously only seen among mafia loan sharks, drug dealers, or twelve-year-olds playing Monopoly.

But the really funny part of all this is that the media columnists are acting as though the American public got hoodwinked by Al. Which raises the question: just what the fuck was the public thinking when they bought half-million dollar houses on salaries under 60-K, taking out no-money-down, interest-optional balloon mortgages and other tricked-up contracts? The answer is: they walked into these arrangements with their eyes open because they thought they could get something for nothing. They thought the trend of steeply rising house prices would continue indefinitely and enable them to wiggle free of any hazard by flipping their houses to an endless supply of greater fools who would be there waiting to turn the very same trick. And the smoothies downstream in the mortgage and banking rackets were no less guided by avarice when they cooked up their formulas for bundling half-baked mortgages into tranches of tradeable securities. Easy Al may have failed to notice what was going on here, but then so did everybody else from The Wall Street Journal to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This, of course, represents an insidious psychology. It could only happen in a culture that has come off the rails mentally, so to speak, as ours has in the sense that nobody has any sense of consequence, neither the leaders nor those who affect to follow the leaders. The leading religion in America is not evangelical Christianity, it is the worship of unearned riches, and its golden rule is the belief that is is possible to get something for nothing. Its holy shrines are Las Vegas and Wall Street. (And, by the way, has anybody heard the evangelical Christians complain about Las Vegas? They complain about a lot of things, but are themselves among the greatest believers in unearned riches — given their preference for prayer over earnest effort in the service of solving life's problems.)

No, the American public, including the cheerleaders in the media, have only themselves to blame for the bitter harvest now underway in the asset and credit markets. And thus it would be a salutary thing for Baby Jeezus, or the forces of nature, or whatever powers guide the universe, to now kick the shit out of them, so to speak, financially, because that is exactly what the American public is full of, from top to bottom, from George W. Bush at his lonely desk on Pennsylvania Avenue to the pitiful, bankrupt householders of Orange County and Boca Raton.

Now, as to the shock of Al's revelation that the Iraq war is about oil — the media and the public have got this all wrong, too. The logic here seems to be that because the Iraq war is about oil it is therefore unnecessary, optional, a mistake, an indulgence, something we should not dirty our hands in. In fact, the Iraq war is not about oil, per se, so much as it is about America's behavior here at home, about the choices we make for how we live on this continent. None of those who complain most loudly about our military presence in Iraq have advanced any proposals for reforming how we live here — and hence for our enslavement to oil, much of the world's remaining supply of which happens to be in the neighborhood of Iraq. When these complainers start complaining about the ubiquitous acceptance of suburban sprawl and abject car-dependency — and this includes the environmental boy scouts out there who want to get merit badges for buying hybrid cars — then they will deserve to be taken seriously. Until then, the American people have got exactly the grinding war that they deserve. Let them whine about it all the way to the Nascar tracks, and let them console themselves with giant plastic bottles of Pepsi Cola and buckets of chicken raised on corn grown with oil byproducts.

On CBS's "60-Minutes" show last night, Greenspan, in his new role as a private sector economic consultant made predictions for the coming months in the US economy. He declared that the financial sector would get over the current credit squeeze as if it were a mild case of indigestion brought on by one too many fried won-tons at the all-you-can-eat buffet, a mere burp, allowing the public to move on to the crab Rangoon and a helping of General Tsao's chicken. This gets back to the previous point about the Iraq war and oil in particular. Al doesn't get it. CBS's sycophant reporters don't get it. Nobody gets it. We are entering the zone of the long emergency in which the primary resource needed to run the industrial economies will become scarce, expensive, and profoundly destabilizing to markets and to normal life, such as it is known in this country. And the current problem in the markets is a reflection of the resource bankruptcy we are facing. Our problems are not about credit, they are about permanent insolvency.

In his old age, Alan Greenspan's face — once darkly handsome in his youthful years as a jazz musician — has taken on the strange appearance of a circus clown. Something about the way his lips have settled into a kind of thick fatuous smile, even when he is apparently not amused by anything. Is it one of God's clever little tricks to leave him looking like a clown in his valedictory years, or has his face just resolved into the perfect embodiment of leadership for a clown nation?
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