When Ben Bernanke gave his speech to the London School of Economics, our reporter was on the scene. Terry Easton put a tough question to America’s central banker: aren’t your interventions just making the situation worse, he wanted to know.
Amid the blah…blah…blah…of Bernanke’s response was this:
“The tendency of financial systems to boom and bust …is a very long-standing problem… but I think it’s very important for us to try to put out the fire…then you think about the fire code.”
In his 1988 book, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter argued that all societies – like all organisms – are doomed. Tainter studied ancient Rome as well as the Mayan civilization. He noticed that problems always blaze up. Each one – whether climatic, political or economic – rings the firehall bell. And each solution – and readers may substitute the word “bailout” for solution – brings more challenges and takes more resources. Finally, the available resources are worn out.
Tainter observes that when the costs become high enough, people seem to give up. By the end of Roman era, for example, the burdens of empire were so heavy that people sold themselves into slavery to get free of them. So many people did so at one point that the authorities had to come up with another solution; they outlawed the practice. Henceforth, Roman citizens were required by law to remain free!
Another philosopher, Giambattista Vico, writing in the 18th century, put the beginning of the decline of Rome roughly at the time of the Great Fire during Nero’s reign. Nero, partly to pay for his post-fire reforms and reconstruction, began taking the gold and silver out of the coins. All civilizations go through three stages, Vico said – divine, heroic, and human. The divine period is ruled by the gods. The heroic period is adorned with victories and statues. Then, comes the human era. (Here, we permit ourselves to add a footnote to Vico’s oeuvre: the coin of the realm in early periods is the gods’ money – gold. Later, people switch to money of their own invention – the kind of money you make from trees.) This last stage, says Vico, is when popular democracy arises, along with rational thinking and what Vico delightfully calls the “barbarie della reflessione” [the barbarism of reflection]. In earlier eras, people do what their gods and leaders ask of them. In the final era, they ask, “what’s in it for me?”
Even as late as the early ‘60s, John F. Kennedy could still appeal to heroic urge without drawing a laugh. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said in his inaugural address, “ask what you can do for your country.”
But 11 years later, Richard Nixon, like Nero before him, began the process of debasing the country’s money. That was a solution too; the United States had spent too much. Nixon could worry about the fire code later. First he opened up with the fire hose; he defaulted on America’s promise to exchange dollars for gold at the statutory rate.
Barack Obama tried a Kennedyesque appeal to civic high-mindedness last week. We need to “insist that the first question each of us asks isn’t ‘what’s good for me’ but ‘what’s good for the country my children will inherit,’” said the president-elect. But now, like Doric columns in a trailer park, the words are ornamental, not structural. They are the homage that one age pays to a better one.
We are in the 21st century now. Barbarous reflections rise up like swamp gas. The whole place stinks of them. Bernanke and Obama offer solutions. But their plans to save the world from a correction are little more than a swindle. They offer to bail out the mistakes of one generation with trillions of dollars’ worth of debt laid onto the next.
“Regarding the current financial meltdown,” writes Rony Teitelbaum, “it is very clear that two main factors underlie the political reactions to the crisis, the first being pressure originating from ties between the financial and the political elect, manifested by taxpayer bailouts of large institutions that continue to deliver bonuses to the executives and donate to political campaigns. For those of us who are not blind, these are clear signs of political corruption which would have made the worst Roman emperor blush. The second factor is political pressure originating from the mass public. The kind of solutions offered so far, and I may add which were received with very warm enthusiasm, were tax rebates and gasoline tax holidays. These are actions aimed at a public who “impatiently expected quick and obvious results,” to quote Cary’s description of Roman society in AD300. (A History of Rome).”
Circa 2009, there is hardly a soul in the entire world who has not been corrupted by the barbarie della reflessione of the late imperial period. Both patricians and plebes are for bailouts. Both business and labor back stimulus programs. The taxpayers and the politicians who rule them are of one mind. Liberal, conservative, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat all speak with a single voice: ‘Screw the next generation!”
The golden age is over, in other words. In the space of 40 years it passed from gold, to silver, to paper…and is now somewhere between plastic and navel lint.
October 9, 2009
Pingback: Tweets that mention After Gods, Heroes and Gold Comes the Age of Lint -- Topsy.com
In his book The New Science published in the first half of the 1700′s ( I think it was around 1744)Giambattista Vico also noted that the explorers of the “New World” had brought back copious evidence that all civilizations around the world, no matter how backward – even tribal – were characterized by the following identical triad of social pillars. The three pillars of society were:
Some form of religion placing a God or God’s above man imposing morality and civil engineering.
Some form of balanced governance that prevented one person or group from assuming absolute power.
Some form of marriage that maintained the foundational family structure to raise children.
All three are actually interrelated and cross supportive. Weaken any one and the stool lists to one side; Kick any one out and the entire structure collapses.
I find it interesting that all three are under intense pressure by dissolusive social forces in America. If even one of any three of these go we will fall far faster than Rome. It seems to me that the assault on God and Marriage seem to be gaining momentum while Socialism a masked version of Communism (Bolshevism is the unmasked version) is making headway. And Communism is simply the usurpation of power by a single person in the form of a Cult of Personality or a small group that rules in a Politbureau type structure (Like all those unappointed Czars!) under cover of realocating weath from the rich to the poor which, instead destroys the very weath they actually wish to grasp for themselves most ly out of sheer envy and resentment that they don’t have it.
God (ooops!) help us!
I have the honor to be respectfully yours,
Pingback: On the Economy « Pond’rings
Warren Buffett is a great investor. Perhaps the greatest investor in history. But the most impressive thing about Warren Buffett isn't his portfolio... It's convincing mom and pop investors he's just like them. Chris Mayer explains why this couldn't be further from the truth, and offers a warning to those who are vulnerable to The Oracle's folksy charm...
Cancer research has come a long way in a very short amount of time. But it still has a long way to go. Today, Ray Blanco explains why cancer research could make leaps and bounds in the coming years, and how early investors could make a fortune because of it. Read on...
The government's influence on the life of an average American citizen is simply staggering. At every turn there is a different "department" or "agency" with a different rule for how you must live your life. Today, John Pugsley offers 15 unique and peaceful ways to legally combat the government's influence on your daily life. Read on...
Thanks to a surge in development, new energy-efficient technologies are constantly changing the way people power their homes. And that's put the tried and true utility sector on the defensive. But while there are plenty of different alternative-energy sources that are pushing this trend forward, one clearly stands ahead of the rest. Greg Guenthner explains...
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Federal Reserve, currency in circulation is up $72.5 billion in the last year - which equates to $234 for every man, woman and child in America. And after rifling through his wife's purse yielded fruitless results, The Mogambo Guru has launched an all-out investigation to find his share. Read on...