The Last Cowboy



There was an abundance of snow last week, too much as it turned out …

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There was an abundance of snow all over, too much for some, just enough for others.

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Untitled screen shot from FBI video of the shooting of LaVoy Finicum, (Oregonian). No snow and Finicum drives right around the Fed roadblock. No snow and the attempt to apprehend LaVoy & Co. at a roadblock is postponed indefinitely.

LaVoy might have known there is no place to run, all the roads lead to … what Kunstler calls; ‘the geography of nowhere’. It’s now the geography of everywhere.

Plainly obvious is the high level of calculation on the Federal side regarding to their ‘management’ of cowboy-style ‘rancher militants’. The FBI wants to end the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge siege without bloodshed, at the same time, gunning down one of the militants on TV sends a message to wannabe insurrectionists — as well as to the country at large — as to what sort of game is being played. Intimidation works, it keeps honest people honest. It keeps those who would never dream of taking part in an insurrection from taking part in an in … oh well, you know.

So far, our homegrown militants have satisfied themselves with making nasty noises and fetishistic gestures; at the symbolic level there are few if any consequences. Actual violence is risky; it takes on a life of its own and spirals quickly out of control. Meanwhile, ending one round of outrage becomes the starting point for the next as the underlying problems are never addressed, (Washington Post):

‘Rolling rally’ in Oregon marks killing of wildlife refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum

Heeding calls for daily protests after Tuesday’s shooting death of a man who had been occupying a nearby national wildlife refuge, a “rolling rally” of dozens of vehicles clogged the streets of this tiny rural town Saturday evening.

The cars and trucks, many of them the oversized, rugged models favored in this rough desert terrain, roared around town bearing U.S. flags, Confederate flags and passengers brimming with rage.

“I feel we are living in a very corrupt government. Right now people are getting pulled out of their car, getting guns pointed at their heads, and they killed an innocent man,” said Judi Rodgers, a local resident of Harney County, who came carrying a sign that read, “Welcome to Nazi Germany.”

Look at it this way … your way of life is falling apart at the seams and you search for answers/someone to blame. We are at the end of a long period of resource plunder, the marginal resource has already been consumed and spat out as waste. People are nevertheless 100% invested in a very high level of resource access. For any particular group to maintain high level access, others must lose it or be denied: pensioners, Venezuelans, Syrians, ranchers, Hapless Negroes, frackers, etc. Any way you look at it, denial of resources is a very ugly process.

Here is the problem: “The cars and trucks, many of them the oversized, rugged models favored in this rough desert terrain, roared around town … “ multiply these vehicles by the number of cities and towns and suburbs across the US and around the world, plus all the other fossil-fuel powered junk; millions of folks roaring around for no purpose other than to waste time and resources, to pretend to be doing something useful, to make vacuous symbolic gestures regarding their self-perceived ‘status’. For some folks … for most … ultimately for all of us … this is the last roar.

Seismic changes of the kind we are experiencing right now — from resource squander to high order conservation — do not come quietly. The shift from European Roman Catholic theocracy to secular nation-states required 100+ years of all-out warfare in the 16th and 17th centuries including the English Revolution, the Spanish war to expel the Moors and the 30 Years War which involved almost all Europeans and killed off about 20% of them.

… the sort of thing we can look forward to avoiding!

Economist Brad DeLong has another idea: he writes at Project Syndicate the (second) largest problem the West faces right is how to manage our incredible abundance (or surplus). At first glance it is hard to tell whether DeLong is being cute or if he has stumbled upon Debtonomics and the First Law by accident.

The debtonomy’s purpose is to direct surplus- related costs away from the holder onto third parties so that he (the holder) can enjoy his gains. Debtonomy evolved to manage The First Law, which states the costs associated with any surplus increase along with it until at some point they exceed its worth. Very much abundance = very much larger abundance-related costs.

DeLong doesn’t aim too high … he merely points out a vanishingly small percentage of the West’s workforce is engaged in food production, that the specter of famine has been banished; that the bulk of those engaged in food processing aim to make food more pleasurable and convenient; that the remaining percentage strives to remedy the consequences of over-eating. Interestingly enough, discussing agricultural labor productivity is as far as DeLong goes with his ‘abundance’ thesis. He veers off into the presumed consequences of increased labor productivity in general, assuming this sort of thing will carry forward unchanged into the distant future …

But job number two– developing economic theories to guide societies in an age of abundance – is no less complicated. Some of the problems that are likely to emerge are already becoming obvious. Today, many people derive their self-esteem from their jobs. As labor becomes a less important part of the economy, and working-age men, in particular, become a smaller proportion of the workforce, problems related to social inclusion are bound to become both more chronic and more acute.

Such a trend could have consequences extending far beyond the personal or the emotional, creating a population that is, to borrow a phrase from the Nobel-laureate economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, easily ‘phished for phools’. In other words, they will be targeted by those who do not have their well-being as their primary goal – scammers like Bernie Madoff, corporate interests like McDonalds or tobacco companies, the guru of the month, or cash-strapped governments running exploitative lotteries.

Look at it this way … your way of life is falling apart at the seams and you search for answers/someone to blame. We are at the end of a long period of resource plunder … send in the dancing girls!

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Otto Yamamoto, ‘Black Lives Matter Protest Distraction’

One has to wonder about economists. It would make sense for DeLong to discuss manufacturing ‘abundance’ (over-capacity) in China and elsewhere (which turns out to have little to do with labor productivity) or the mass of plastic waste, found everywhere in the world or carbon emissions, worthless junk or the toxic chemicals that are inundating us.

Because of stupendous material outflows, the resources needed on input side of industrial processes are becoming increasingly short. That this is so is both self-evident and undeniable (except to economists). Excluding some renewable inputs, we started long ago with everything and are feverishly, frantically squandering our way toward nothing.

“Everything” = resources before we begin extracting them, as for example, petroleum before 1858.

‘Nothing’ = a few years later, after we have extracted everything we can get our hands on.

Within the everything-to-nothing regime we are about half way to the bottom. ‘Abundance’ as such only makes sense out of context, where finished products appear by magic out of thin air, crafted by elves from climate gases. As a component of debtonomics’ self-fooling process, the worth (see below) of inputs is discounted, otherwise output cannot be affordably financed. At the same time, resources are considered to have no value at all, how can it be otherwise? If resources had value they would be hoarded, as they would be precious. One does not throw a Picasso into the furnace in order to keep warm even if snow is up to our armpits. But feeding the fires is what we do with our resources … without a care in the world! We burn them because we lie to ourselves, because we are able to do so effortlessly by conflating value and worth as if they are the same (no)thing.

From this starting point of self-deception, corruption by inches takes on a life of its own until it engulfs everything in sight. The Bernie Madoffs, the corporate interests, the (finance) gurus of the month and various governments … where has J. Bradford DeLong been? The modern economy is basically a form of organized crime. Industrial firms are morphed into hedge funds intent on increasing their own worth by way of debt-financed share buy-backs and mergers, by the issuance of dubious ‘securities’ and shifting of liabilities off their balance sheets. Markets as such have ceased to be, they have become cockpits of manipulation and insider trading. Regulators are bought and sold like Ottoman galley slaves. Politicians are sock puppets for finance interests. Wrong-doers walk the streets unpunished: if there is abundance of anything it is malfeasance and fraud and deceit. Even our cowboys are fake!

DeLong plugs behavioral economists like George Akerlof, Robert Shiller, Richard Thaler, and Matthew Rabin but they don’t really need it. He does not seem to grasp the scale of crimes, far beyond the deception of individual investors. Our 21st century looting is both transnational and opaque. The thefts are always presented as ‘making the economy grow,’ implying a ‘helping hand for the little guy’. The beneficiaries are invariably tycoons and finance-level criminals, (Marketwatch):

China’s Central Bank Makes Massive Cash Infusion

China’s central bank is putting the largest amount of cash into the financial system in nearly three years, using a weekly market operation to pre-empt a holiday-induced funding squeeze and offset rapid capital outflows.

The People’s Bank of China offered 340 billion yuan ($51.89 billion) of short-term loans, known as reverse repurchase agreements, to commercial banks in a routine money market operation Thursday.

The central bank provided 440 billion yuan via similar tools Tuesday, the first leg of its twice-a-week liquidity-management exercises.

Given the maturity of 190 billion yuan of previously issued loans, the PBOC’s net cash injection this week totals 590 billion yuan, the biggest of its kind since early February 2013, when it reached 662 billion yuan.

This is a crime but it is invisible. Liquidity provision is nothing more than central bank financing the theft of stolen funds. Nobody asks how theft occurs or who is behind it: certainly not the ordinary Chinese manufacturing worker. Finance managers and government administrators don’t even recognize the crime (except where blame can be fixed on ‘malcontents’). Instead, funds outflow is offered as nothing more than an unfortunate consequence of well intended government policy, bad luck … an (over) abundance of snow!

Liquidity provision shifts (pillages) buying power away from customers toward Big Business and finance. Bosses grab the money and leave the country, using it to buy expensive flats and houses … anywhere besides China, where the ordinary workers are left holding the bag.

At the same time, the provision is self-defeating because the decreasing availability of credit undermines the customer bid for products. Prices fall leading to supplier insolvency which ricochets through finance reducing credit-worthiness overall. The outcome is increased outflow of foreign exchange from the country and currency depreciation in a vicious cycle.

The central bank infusions are intended to defend the currency, yet by itself the defense signals to speculators and arbitrageurs the currency is over-priced. The specs turn around and short the currency in overseas markets where central bank cannot reach, (Wall Street Journal):

Currency War: U.S. Hedge Funds Mount New Attacks on China’s Yuan

Some of the biggest names in the hedge-fund industry are piling up bets against China’s currency, setting up a showdown between Wall Street and the leaders of the world’s second-largest economy.

Kyle Bass’s Hayman Capital Management has sold off the bulk of its investments in stocks, commodities and bonds so it can focus on shorting Asian currencies, including the yuan and the Hong Kong dollar.

Billionaire trader Stanley Druckenmiller and hedge-fund manager David Tepper have staked out positions of their own against the currency, also known as the renminbi, according to people familiar with the matter. David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital Inc. holds options on the yuan depreciating.

Expectations for a weaker yuan have led to an exodus of capital by Chinese residents and foreign investors. Though it still boasts the largest holding of foreign reserves at $3.3 trillion, China has experienced huge outflows in recent months. Hedge funds are gambling that China will let its currency weaken further in a bid to halt a flood of money leaving the country and jump-start economic growth …

… and help the little guy!

When a country’s currency is depreciated it is as if a robber goes from house to house stealing a percentage of the goods and money inside. If the depreciation is ten percent, that is the amount of the robbery- times every house in the country! Hedge fund barons avoid the time-consuming mess and hard labor of sledgehammering their way into thousands of houses, they simply switch on their Bloomberg terminals and push a few buttons (this is called risk-taking). Meanwhile, the victims have no idea what has hit them, they don’t even comprehend they have been robbed!

There are more finance crimes, always more; “I feel we are living in a very corrupt government,” says Judi Rodgers, the understatement of the millennium. Our entire economy is based upon pillaging under a veneer of high minded, well intentioned propaganda. We never give anything back, we never have! we never even bothered to learn- or consider how. The militants in Oregon and elsewhere are not interested in improving public lands for the ‘good of the country’, neither are frackers or miners or other despoliators. The hedge fund barons and Wall Street bankers Kyle Bass or Stanley Druckenmiller — or the Chinese central banker Zhou Xiaochuan for that matter — they don’t aim to increase the prosperity of the working man or anyone else, anywhere else; no one but themselves. They grab what they can of the loot and demand more; lest the devil take the hindmost which he invariably does. This is what it comes to: five hundred years of labor-efficient pillaging and the customers cannot afford to retire the barons’ debts. So much for abundance, our businesses are busted.

Busted, insolvent, ruined: our tycoons, our businesses, our workers our banks, our cowboys. So it goes, to the logical conclusion, will the last cowboy out the door please turn off the lights.

DEBTONOMICS NOTE:

The ‘worth’ of something is the financial, monetary measurement of a good (or service) relative to another good or service. Worth = price or rate of exchange.

‘Value’ is the intrinsic character of a good (or person, organization, idea or service) outside of its price, a determination over time of its usefulness to the furtherance of civil society.

Worth is a quantitative measure, value has no arbitrary measure but is rather a matter of quality.

Top photo = Steve Ludlum © Copyright 2015.