Monday, October 27, 2008
Trick or treat, I'm James Kunstler
If I really want to scare people on all Hallow's Eve, I will go door to door as James Kunstler, a writer of particularly interesting books on the failure of urban design (Home From Nowhere), and the ways in which we might confront and cure those failures.
His blog, Clusterfuck Nation, is one of my favorites, and you'll find it over there to the left in my Link-Ola listing.
But it's getting very scary to read his last several posts. As a writer, he has the gift of projecting from what is actually happening, to what might just happen. His vision of the future is not for the faint-of-heart.
Kunstler has taken a long hard look at the dismal economic situation, and hypothesized hyperinflation, shanty towns, oil shortages, food hoarding and rationing and finally open rebellion.
This, for example, from his post, Easthampton Burning:
I have thought for some time that things could get dangerously out of hand in America, despite our exceptionalist notion that we are immune to the common plot-lines of history. For starters, inauguration night will seem more like Halloween, as those two little words fly in to haunt the new president. So, a large and looming question is: who will be appointed the next attorney general of the US (to replace the human sash-weight currently occupying the office), and how soon will the federal marshals be scouring the wainscoted hallways of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, not to mention a thousand Greenwich, Connecticut, hedge fund boiler rooms, with man-sized nets?
The new president will have to be Franklin Roosevelt on steroids, with some Mahatma Gandhi and Florence Nightingale thrown in. My pet project of restoring the American passenger railroad system might seem pretty minor in the face of all this, but it's at least a place to start that will accomplish several things: allow people and things to get places without cars and trucks; put many thousands of people to work at many levels doing something of direct, practical value; and be a small step in rebuilding confidence that we are a society capable of accomplishing something.
And this from his frightening post, What Now?:
...let's say that we are witnessing the two stages of a tsunami. The current disappearance of wealth in the form of debts repudiated, bets welshed on, contracts canceled, and Lehman Brothers-style sob stories played out is like the withdrawal of the sea. The poor curious little monkey-humans stand on the beach transfixed by the strangeness of the event as the water recedes and the sea floor is exposed and all kinds of exotic creatures are seen thrashing in the mud, while the skeletons of historic wrecks are exposed to view, and a great stench of organic decay wafts toward the strand. Then comes the second stage, the tidal wave itself -- which in this case will be horrific monetary inflation -- roaring back over the mud flats toward the land mass, crashing over the beach, and ripping apart all the hotels and houses and infrastructure there while it drowns the poor curious monkey-humans who were too enthralled by the weird spectacle to make for higher ground. The killer tidal wave washes away all the things they have labored to build for decades, all their poignant little effects and chattels, and the survivors are left keening amidst the wreckage as the sea once again returns to normal in its eternal cradle.
I must say that in the stillness of a few early mornings, I've had my share of similar thoughts, and I can only hope that my amplified pessimism, and Kunstler's, is misplaced. In fact, I've never wished more that my lizard-brain, wake-me-in-the-middle-of-the-night, instincts are dead wrong.
So, boo, goddamit. The hedge fund hobgoblins of Wall Street aren't real, are they?
BTW, the New York Times business section had a good column by Gretchen Morgenstern about the failure of regulators to check the failure of financiers, and why we are entrusting any of them to perform any duties moving forward.