In my February 4th post about the sham US ‘recovery’, I spent a few paragraphs demolishing the idea that America (or anyone else for that matter) is in ‘recovery’. More evidence has just emerged to support that idea. New orders for durable goods fell in January 2012 by 4% – the largest drop for three years. And a separate report showed US property prices falling sharply during December 2011.
The latter data set wasn’t that unexpected – to me, anyway: pre-Christmas flatlining property markets are not exactly new. But durables are always a key indicator of how happy people are to spend big bucks on big things. They’re a reflection of confidence….or lack of it.
Also down by 4% to a mere $4.6bn were JP Morgan’s profits. While wondering how on earth they were going to manage on that going forward, my eye fell across a piece in the Journal telling how five US equity investment firm owners would be taking home a bonus of $94m each at the end of March. Bruce Willis diverting that asteroid and dying in the process…that made him worth $94m for the job. But nobody else is worth $94m for a year’s work. Nobody. And anyone who thinks so is a sadly damaged human being.
Let me try and rationalise that apparently intolerant statement. Had anyone come to me in corporate life and said they needed $94m to stay interested in the business, I’d have expressed sympathy for their plight, and fired them. $94m isn’t a bonus, it’s a bonanza leveraged into a bazooka for a bonehead who somehow puts a value on the ownership of meaningless amounts of money. Except, of course, money brings power – and that’s what these reptiles really want. I didn’t want to employ megalomaniacs: they take up too much time and they’re inordinately expensive to run. Then they get elected to Congress or Parliament and leave your employ anyway, determined to apply those same twisted values to bankrupting the Treasury. I wanted to employ people interested in quality and standards, not in owning 94 million bad drawings of Abe Lincoln. Not even Andy Warhol was that crass.
The two reasons I’m rarely satirical about neocon economics is (a) it’s bad form, and lousy sport, to shoot ducks in a barrel; and (b) the effects of such braindead thinking are every bit as destructive as the ramblings of old Beardy Marx. This stuff can be funny – up to a point. After that point, it’s damned irritating…especially if you’re one of the poor folks. Ronald Reagan remains one of the most revered US Presidents because he cut taxes to create super-wealth which, he said, would trickle down. Well, it didn’t: it gushed upwards into f**kwitted $94m bonuses. Milt Friedman pronounced that 5% had to own at least 93% of the wealth in order to create universal social progress and happiness. I’ve known people committed to insane asylums for better ideas than that one.
Let’s take the decisive market thing. We are told two things about markets: they will always take the right decision, and they will always self-correct. Anyone spot the internal flaw in that neocon ‘logic’? Quite. It’s laughable – and yet at one and the same time, no laughing matter: the clowns running the world at the moment believe this crap. And the Left? Ha. Their answer is to return to the comfort blanket of a centralised, meddling State control that eradicates liberties even more quickly than it pauperises the people it purports to help. (The EU is its latest Frankenstein creation).
So here we are again: a species lurching from one extreme to another, and repeating experiments that failed last time. Meanwhile, the community, libertarian mutualising natural approach has succeeded far more often than either of the other two alternatives. There’s a simple reason for this: it reflects the irrefutable fact that Homo sapiens’ success is based (as with any pack animal) on a judicious mixture of cooperation and competition. Watch any ape colony anywhere in the wild, and you will see it in action.
But we are not apes any more. We grew a bigger brain to oxygenate more effectively our escape from predators when long-term African drought 840,000 years ago droves us down from the trees. We are Man. And Man is an intelligent thug.
As I keep on saying, “It’s the species, stupid”. However, recent history has shown us that Thomas Hobbes was wrong: we are not ineluctably nasty and brutish. Robert Louis Stevenson was much nearer the mark with his great work of genius, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde: what we really are is curate’s eggs laid by a two-sided brain. But the carrot-and-stick approach can bring us back into line.
Fire a kid’s imagination while telling him or her where the lines are, and you are in with a good chance of creating a well-behaved, fulfilled social animal more than likely to make a contribution to the pack. Think up a false Utopia where everyone is either a Beast or a Robot, and you’ll get either anarchic neocon greed, or Soviet multiculturalist hypocrisy. There must be something better on offer than those two dystopias.
That gets me back again to “It’s the culture, stupid”. I will never move away from this Truth: the creation and flourishing of a civilised culture proves that, intelligent thugs or not, we can be channelled into doing good stuff. Of the people who stand any kind of realistic chance in the forthcoming US Presidential election, I couldn’t possibly vote for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. The main reason is that I’m not American. The other one is that I’d much rather vote for Ron Paul. He stands for freedom, bravery, creativity, humanitarianism, community values…and everything good about a fairly run liberal/libertarian democracy.
Is he a Nazi? No. Is he a Communist? No. Will he be elected President? No. For people who care about the human being’s capacity for decency, that is the problem we face.