The outstanding question from the get-go of 2011 is just this: can a political economy be kept floating along like a Winnie-the-Pooh balloon on gusts of sheer fakery? To me, the simple answer is no. The people running things in the USA have tried everything from pervasive accounting fraud to complete opacity in trading procedures to looting the republic's future. The consensus trance of "recovery" makes itself manifest through every conduit of public utterance - cable TV news, The New York Times, the pronouncements of every last elected official - even though the Gross Domestic Product index omits items such as food, gasoline, and heating oil in its calibrations, while heaping on fictional "hedonic" adjustments.Later on, in this very long prediction essay, Kunstler has a particularly amusing paragraph:
What's left of the American economy is a web of financial rackets divorced from the production of real wealth, dependent on an elaborate computerized three-card-monte edifice of swindling. Those groans and creakings you hear are the agonies of this ediface swaying under its burden of lies, while underneath it the ground of history shifts.
A secondary outstanding question - I get it all the time - is whether the people running things know how fake this picture is, and how horrifying the view behind-the-curtain is. Does President Obama understand the relation of our energy predicament to the workings of our economy? How could he not? Certainly he has had a conversation or two with Energy Secretary (and eminent physicist) Steven Chu over the past two years. Mr. Chu should have explained to the president that a decline in the primary energy resource used by an industrial society portends a decline in living standards, which can be expressed in an economy, for instance, by people having less money, or by people having lots of money that is increasingly worthless. This concept may lie outside the strict purview of physics, but surely somebody like Paul Volker was at hand in the White House to connect the dots - and perhaps explain further that anything in the picture beyond that equation amounts to a looting operation by people positioned to systematically cream off the dwindling equity base of a roughly 200-year-old venture.
By the way, to aver to "people running things" is not evidence of a persecution complex. Lots of people are in positions to make decisions. The president may be a hero, a con man, a victim of history, a bungler, a hostage to events - but you can be sure that he makes real decisions that affect people's lives every day. Where I depart from darker views is the idea that there is some shadow gang of hidden puppeteers behind the visible leadership - the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers - bent on a quasi-religious crusade to impose "one-world government," or some kind of totalistic domination scheme out of comic book politics. I denounce such views as childish, deranged distractions from a reality that is challenging enough without the intrusion of paranoid fantasies.
If there are "bad guys" or string-pullers on the scene, then they are figures in plain sight, like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein at the big banks, or John Paulson in his hedge fund, or the many figures who have moved back and forth between Wall Street and government in recent years, and their machinations are pretty well understood, and explicated daily by diligent observers on the scene - from William Black to Yves Smith, to Simon Johnson, to Janet Tavakoli, and many many others. The legerdemain of the Federal Reserve in shoveling money to dominant banks has fooled only those who exhaust their attention on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Lady Gaga, and the National Basketball Association.
The larger riddle of life-in-our-time surrounds the absence of the rule of law in money matters. To say that people are actually running things out there doesn't mean that are running them effectively or optimally. The US Department of Justice, for example, appears to be led by a zombie, Attorney-General Eric Holder, somebody of this world but no longer quite in it, who is pioneering a new method of Zen law enforcement based on a maximum of doing and saying of nothing. Of course, my ongoing theory since the national election of 2008 is that Barack Obama has been warned repeatedly by many credible figures that any move to disturb the operations of banking would bring down such a wrathful ruin on this nation that he had no choice but to keep his hands off the levers of enforcement. In fact, it's the only theory that explains adequately the yawning gap between reality and the representation of it by those assumed to hold authority.
Whether we can overcome these obstacles to action and move this crippled society to a re-set of daily life consistent with what the planet provides is a whole other question. My guess is that we will eventually be dragged kicking and screaming to this re-set, which I have described in my book The Long Emergency and my novels World made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron. That outcome is rather severe, basically a "time-out" of unlimited duration from the orgy of techno-comforts that have defined existence in "developed" societies for many decades. It implies a massive loss of things that people will not let go of, and so the political games around money matters really all amount to one thing: a campaign to sustain the unsustainable at all costs. It obviously requires monumental levels of mass self-deception, of pretending, of fakery, of lying, of denial. The psychology of all this is another thing that is thoroughly understood, but such is the collective anxiety about our situation that knowing how-and-why we behave a particular way does not alter our behavior.
I've heard people say that North Korea is China's stalking horse in some kind of world domination scenario out of the James Bond script locker. That doesn't really add up to me. North Korea is like a nineteen-year-old autistic nephew jacked up on vodka, LSD, and crystal meth, with seventeen pounds of Semtex taped to his chest and grenade in each paw. You wouldn't give such a creature the run of the neighborhood, would you? Of course not. You'd whack it in the head with a shovel, drag it down the coal chute, and starve it to death. My forecast for 2011 includes such a schooling by China to that reckless rogue state.