economic-undertow | The West was to become a Keynesian paradise of endless abundance and leisure, a suburbanite fairyland of Negro-free gated ‘communities’, of pastel McMansions and luxury SUVs; of gourmet meals crafted from GMO ingredients washed down with magnums of Veuve Clicquot and narcissism. We would play croquet as eternal children under the glorious sunshine of prosperity while ‘disutility’ (labor) would be performed ‘somewhere else’ (Mexico). The waste and destruction associated with industrialization would vanish because we would all be rich enough to hire robots to clean up after us.
There were a few clouds: the tail-end of trivial conflicts in Central America; the ‘War on Drugs’, the Asian finance crisis in 1997 and the collapse of the Russian economy the following year. Long Term Capital Management followed the Russian economy into the toilet in early 1998 necessitating the first ‘rescue us or else’ mega-bailout of Wall Street. These events were diversionary theater: people who could afford it lost some money, bosses who badly needed new jobs lost theirs. All in all the entire reconfiguration process turned out to be remarkably painless.
Looking back, the notion of final geopolitical resolution was naively optimistic, a quaint artifact of a particular zeitgeist, like Beatle Boots or flip cellphones. What was really happening was the ending of the ending: ancient monsters were not vanquished only hibernating so as to take new forms. Now, when we need it most and want it least, history has stormed out of its coffin like a vengeful, blood-hungry vampire, reminding us all why we wanted to be rid of it in the first place.
Enter the new millennium and (quasi-)liberal democracy and finance capitalism are being shellacked and nobody can figure out why. Extreme events are tripping over each other like – add your favorite cliché here – cheese and macaroni. Radicals are ascendant as the status quo proves unable to prevent the consumption utopia from slipping out of reach. Strategies that once bore fruit are revealed as nonsense; military ‘stimulus’, central bank witch doctoring, austerity, institutionalized discrimination, trivial interest rate- and foreign exchange manipulation. The outcome is credit transfers from those with less to those with everything … and fury. With chaos on one side, dithering on the other, the public turns toward autocrats while societies — particularly across the arc of northern- and central Africa to south Asia — blow apart at the seams, writhing in agony, frantic to escape the vice-like grip of ‘less’ and unmet expectations.
This is the terror that dares not speak its name; not to be engulfed by refugees or shot by militants but forced by desperate necessity to become one! Rage is fear by another name.
Tyrants like Trump and Erdogan (and Clinton) are products of industrial resource capitalism no different from McMansions and automobiles, they are also fetishes. Unlike vicarious pleasure-pussy Taylor Swift, tyrants symbolize power, ruthlessness and control … and increasing surpluses. Their promise to harvest gains by whatever means is the substance of their public appeal. The relationship between tyrant and followers is symbiotic and self-reinforcing. Adherents give form and color to the tyrant’s outline while the tyrant suspends- or outruns institutional restraints, providing the necessary sanction for adherents to act out their own impulses, destructive or otherwise.
The emergence of tyrants like Trump and Erdogan (and Clintons) is suggestive: that technology cannot produce the consumer outcomes we are desperate to preserve. If technology could save us autocrats would not be necessary. They are reductive rather than creative, their first- and last resort is coercion as when governments dragoon pensioners rather than machines to rescue finance.