It's The Stupid Economy

I have this image stuck in my head:

It’s a few months from now. Everyone who can possibly be foreclosed upon has lost their house and been booted out. The banks have repossessed apartment buildings from the landlords and every tenant has been evicted. And all of us, home owners and renters side by side, are parked on the street, right in front of our former homes, worldly goods stacked around us.

We cook on barbecue grills, sleep on mattresses spread along the asphalt, wash our dishes and ourselves with hoses hooked up to fire hydrants. We queue for the block’s portapotty, all the while staring at our boarded up, crumbling former homes, wondering, “how did we get here?” No answers come forth; we shrug and go about our days.

This scenario is of course delusional. Oh, not the part of all of us living on the streets; that seems all too possible. The delusional part is the idea that everybody will shrug and go quietly about their business. We’re just not that kind of species. Paraphrasing our national court jester: burn, baby burn.

After three years’ obsession with cancer, a transplant, follow-up operations and other assorted medical miseries, I’m at last looking outward again. I’m quasi-functional, my mind more or less works, and with a bit of effort I can hide the “less” moments. I’m enjoying things, keeping busy with photos and happily not running to UCSF Medical Center twice a week. Of course, I haven’t earned much money in two years, and not being a relative of Mr Bill or Ms Paris it occurs to me I need to be doing something gainful again.

So I’m making plans again and writing more, brushing up on my computer skills, etcetera, hoping to figure out how to earn some money and I look out into the world and find everybody, lemming like, has jumped off… 

…a cliff.

Huh? What the hell IS this noxious mess of an economy? Who did THAT? Is it really real or just really bad reality TV? It’s as if I woke up from the long transplant “experience” not in heaven’s lawnchairs or dodging embers in hell, but trapped on planet Far Side.

It’s not like I haven’t been following events during my confinement. I’m a news junkie. I majored in history in college and liked it. I’ve read The Economist since my 20s – though more  for the international news than the economics, I now regret. I read newspapers and of course scan the blogs-of-doom daily. (But no CNBCFOXCNNMSNBC cable news buzz for me thank you very much. I’ve never been THAT sick. Or that unconscious.) If all my personal news-gathering isn’t enough, I have friends who pour over this economy-in-meltdown stuff with the zeal of Talmudic scholars, insisting on sharing what they know or, more accurately, what they don’t. So I’m as “up to date” as most anyone out of shouting range of Wall Street and D.C. 

Still, looking beyond my navel again, I am absolutely blown away by this global mess. To rephrase the above in textspeak: WTF??? 

Which I am sadly coming to realize is a reaction not limited to me. I wouldn’t mind if I was the only confused one toddling around the streets: anesthesia and surgery and toxic meds are great excuses for just about every odd behavior. But I seem to be standing in the middle of Central Zeitgeist Square with most everybody in the world. Everybody’s surprised. Everybody’s confused. Nobody has a clue. Not my potential fellow street occupants, not the academics, not the pundits (give me a break!) and certainly not the financial Masters of the Universe. Those whiz kids have been mastering the logic and physics of some other universe, not ours. Still, I gotta ask somebody, even if its to the rumor-buzzing crowd: 

“Excuse me, but where has all the money gone?”

Did somebody steal it? They say  a lot of those fundie hedgehogs and derivators got filthy rich from their shenanigans. But the same “experts” say we’ve lost some 10 trillion dollars – trillion with a T – in the last six months and more’s to come. I mean, go. 

Lost? Ten trillion? Excuse me? How? Where? Did the money fundies take all of it? How could they? And if so, what did they do with it? What CAN they do with it? I mean, Bill Gates has so much money he can’t spend it fast enough on a waning software company and a world of health catastrophes and he’s only got a few tens of billions. What would somebody do with 10 trillion? Buy Mars? 

If my mental hallucination comes true, who gains? Certainly not us renters and homeowners. Mortgage brokers and real estate agents will all be broke (awwww…) and probably wind up on the street with the rest of us, though anonymously to avoid lynching. Landlords don’t profit if they’re not getting any rent. Not even the banks are happy except maybe the top 1/100 of 1 percent of their managers who anyway have all decamped to The Caymans. Those still working in the sacred halls of finance just put plywood across our former homes’ windows and set fire sale signs out front, hoping for a quarter on a dollar.

And those newly uber-rich looters: if they do collapse the world, what have they gained? If everything tanks they’ll be stuck in the same Dark Ages 2.0 with the rest of us. Do they really want to spend their lives tottering around icy stone castles without Blackberries or plastic surgery or boutique Merlots, beheading peasants and neighbors when their moods foul? Do they want lives sort of like North Korea’s Kim Jong Il?

More and more it seems Occam’s Razor is the operative rule of human behavior, though conspiracy theorists will disagree. I fear that the real answer is to how we got here is, nobody knows anything, nobody planned anything, everybody was just grabbing for lucre, filthy or not. Everybody, from the greedy poor to the greedier rich going after my me mine, no one paying paying attention.

These days, Lily Tomlin’s masterpiece The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life keeps replaying in my mind. In the show, Trudy the bag lady makes a discovery. “Reality,” Trudy proclaims, “is just a collective hunch.”

So is the stupid economy. Stupid.

Somehow, when we all believed the bullshit, or wanted to believe it or at least acted like we did, then everything worked. Once doubts really kick in though, when prophets like Dr. Doom start getting listened to and we start realizing there is no economic “there” there, then we lose our confidence and everything goes to hell. We are like a high-wire artist who, half way across his rope, suddenly becomes aware he could fall and does so. The only question left is, do we have a net?

I use a Susan Sontag quote as my eMail tag, something she said while fighting the cancer that took her from us a few years ago. Describing her desire to continue on, she said, “I’d like to stick around as long as possible just to see how stupid it gets.” Amen, sister. But in my situation, sticking around for at least a while longer, I’ve had to add another quote, this one by M. Anonymous: “Careful what you wish for.”

As long as Otto and I have dog food we’ll get  by. And truth is, watching the collapse is fascinating in an perverse way. I am at heart more an observer of the world than a participant; that solid “A” history student is still inside me. So I am not without fascination. And in a sick way I even have a personal safety net: if the world truly does collapse to the knives and guns and gangs level, to the point where nothing’s working and we’re all fighting over food… if we sink that low I won’t be able to get get my anti-rejection meds so I’ll be dead in a month. No lingering among the ruins thinking up superstitions about plagues and devils for me.

So for now, I guess I’ll see if there is anything left to do in this stupid economy. Otherwise, I’ll just try to enjoy the show.

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No Responses to “It's The Stupid Economy”

  1. Tom K Says:

    Great, Ed. I keep wondering “Where did all that money go?” too! I love your writing.
    Stay healthy. I’m hanging in there too. -Tom

  2. Larry A Says:

    Ed you have a tougher skin than I and a fluency with words. The delusional nightmares beg for distraction and I survive hour by hour, day by day. But I’m not so surprised. Capitalism is after all just an enormous Ponzi scheme. (Someone else said that but I don’t recall who–was it you?)
    So there’s a thousand or ten thousand new billionaires at least on paper. We need some modern castles don’t we?

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