Dorothea Lange Rear window tenement dwelling, 133 Avenue D, NYC June 1936
I am thinking about the similarities between a financial crisis and for instance a family crisis, the death of a loved one or close friend, a divorce, or a personal bankruptcy.
And I wonder why in the case of our recent (aka current) financial crisis, we allow nothing to enter our communications, and our train of thought, but the idea of recovery and a return to growth. Has everyone always reacted that way after earlier financial crises – history is full of them -, or is something else going on?
Why do we insist on returning to something we once had, even if we have no way of knowing whether we can ever return? Why don’t we focus – more – on what lies ahead, instead of what is behind us? Is it because we loved what we had so much? Or is something else going on?
Even if we do love what once was so much, there’s a time to move on after every disaster, every death in the family, every bankruptcy. And deep down we know that very well. Life will never be the same, but it’ll still be life. It seems safe to say that in general, life is about turning, not returning. Life changes, we change, every day, every minute, every millisecond.
This refusal to turn a new leaf and find out what’s on the other side of the hill has enormous consequences. We are actively digging ourselves so deep into debt that it’s preposterous to claim this debt is ours only, because it’s painfully clear, though we would never admit it (too painful perhaps?), that we can never pay it back. We leave that honor to our children, and to the generations after them.
We should undoubtedly have protected us from ourselves, by making it illegal and punishable by law to engage in such behavior (something along the lines of Child Protection Services). We chose instead to be blind to it. We still could – should – write such legislation, but it looks as if present politics and economic ‘thinking’ will only exacerbate a situation that is already far worse than we care to know.
The overruling ‘wisdom’ looks to be that we miraculously freed ourselves from the yoke of a balanced budget, an idea seemingly justified by the fact that a return to growth has been elevated to the status of a law, of either physics or a deity of our choice, growth that will subsequently make all debts melt like the snow on the Kilimanjaro.
That overruling wisdom, as should be obvious, is at best wishful thinking, but far more likely pure fantasy. Which has become our main, make that only, approach of the crisis we find ourselves in. If only we believe, our leaders will deliver us to growth heaven.
But what if this is the end of the growth story? What if it’s already behind us? It’s not as if growth has been a constant factor in the lives of our ancestors. And it’s not as if the laws of physics put no limits on everlasting growth. Growth is a passing thing, it’s a phase.
Most of us have heard of the seven stages of grief. Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance. Where are we in our journey through these stages when it come to the financial crisis, and to growth? There’s only one stage that even remotely sounds right: Denial. We’re not even close to Anger yet, not when it comes to the larger population.
We simply deny that something has really changed. And even if you wish to claim that it hasn’t, no-one can deny the possibility that it has. Still, that is exactly what happens. Denial, everywhere you look.
The something else that is going on is that our brains have been kidnapped by those who (probably not even always consciously) seek to strengthen their – power – political and financial positions by making us believe in the growth story long after it has – for all we can see – died. That’s why we listen only to the growth story, to the exclusion of any and all other stories.
It’s a form of progress, though not a benign one. Freud’s ideas are (ab)used to hide reality from us (to ‘sell’ the message), while Keynes’ ideas are abused to hide the reality that you can’t buy growth with debt your children will have to pay back. Pretty simple, when you think about it.
If you know how to sell people detergents and presidents, abstract ideas is easy. And if those ideas are about economics, that nobody knows much about and all the trusted experts and press have the same message about 24/7, the circle is pretty much closed. All that’s left then is places like the Automatic Earth and others to get your alternative stories, but that’s no match for full blown propaganda.
Still we’re seeing, we’re living in, the last days of the growth story. And when the master class decides to drop that story, watch out. The emperor is one ugly wrinkled old duckling when he’s naked. You don’t want your kids to see that.