This is a pretty good summation of what is happening around the world when it pertains to Economics and Geo Politics by James Kunstler
Economy, Finance, and Money
Our economy is hitched to our energy resources. The business model for providing fossil fuels to the global economy is broken in many ways, and therefore the business model of a high-tech industrial production economy is also broken. The shale oil industry was launched on a high tide of near-zero financing and over a decade since then it produced an enormous quantity of oil (though less-than first-rate, short on heavy distillates such as diesel and heating oil). In the process, shale oil producers proved they could not make any money on these very expensive operations, and we now enter a period of capital scarcity that will make it harder for them to attract new investment and continue performing. Besides that, they are exhausting the “sweet spots” for drilling and fracking.
What’s left after you subtract shale oil are the conventional fields that were in steep decline in 2008 when the shale campaign got underway. In 2022, expect US oil production to fall below 9-million barrels a day. We consume just under 20-million barrels-a-day, and import the difference. You would have every reason to expect that a more disorderly world scene may interfere with our oil imports in 2022. Expect consumption to drop too, as economic activity weakens. Let’s predict consumption will fall to 15-million barrels-a-day. The oil markets will therefore be disorderly, with price oscillation as shortages and demand destruction push and pull each other. Remember the basic equation: oil over $75-a-barrel weakens economies; oil under $75-a-barrel crushes oil companies .
The wish persists that we can run the complex systems of modern life on alternative energy sources, but that wish is just not panning out. The realization that this is so will spread through western civ in 2022 and create more anxiety, more disordered thinking, cultish behavior, and breakdown of social norms. For now, the public arena is entirely occupied by the mass formation psychosis that first erupted around Donald Trump and then shifted to Covid-19. The stresses and tension of these demoralizing dynamics may lead in 2022 to the outbreak of political violence that will make it even harder to reach consensus on a way through our economic quandaries.
Let’s agree to compress our recent economic history, since I’ve rehearsed it many times in weekly blogs at Clusterfuck Nation: We replaced our on-the-ground goods manufacturing activities with so-called financialization , essentially the manufacture of debt — borrowing from the future to run our complex systems today, to compensate for the losses accrued by our broken energy business model. It was all a swindle, since you can’t create prosperity with the sheer management of instruments purporting to represent wealth if there is no real production of material wealth behind it. Debt is not wealth. You can play games with it in financial markets, buy and sell it, manipulate interest rates and prices to give the appearance of things functioning. But that only goes so far — specifically to the point where reality overcomes artifice, and that’s where we are now. Substituting debt for wealth introduced perversities into the economy. Now you can’t tell the real value of anything — “price discovery” is disabled — and that bleeds into socio-economic behavior, too. Now, many business activities, including the supposedly self-consciously ethical fields of higher-ed and medicine, have become dreadful rackets, which is to say efforts to make money dishonestly. We can’t pretend that all this is okay anymore. We’re left with a gigantic edifice of debt that will never be paid back and a whole lot of bad behavior that is corroding our humanity.
After two decades of papering over our inability to pay for running our society, the Federal Reserve has finally achieved old-school inflation — the destruction of money itself — not just the pumping up of share prices, their specialty for so many years. They kept inflation at bay all that time by exporting it to other countries who sent us real stuff in exchange for our paper promises: treasury bills, notes, bonds. Covid lockdowns and the destruction of business finally killed that longstanding equilibrium and then growing ill feeling between the US and China starting killing supply chains. Now, globalism is on the ropes and with it our ability to export US treasury paper. All the “helicopter money” flushed into the system during Covid now chases goods that have a tougher journey to their points-of-sale. Parts of machines, cars, and many other things become hard to get. Prices go up. Systems break down and their failures ramify in other systems.
With inflation running officially around 8 percent, and unofficially more like 15 percent, the real interest rate on a ten-year treasury bond is the nominal 1.49 percent minus between 8 and 15 percent, a deeply negative number. Owning that paper is a dead loss. If the rate of inflation continues merely apace of 2021 in 2022, the loss will steepen. If inflation continues greater than apace of 2021, treasury paper will be like so many smallpox blankets on the global bond market and America will be verging on Weimar-style runaway inflation. We won’t be able to offer any more bonds in return for stuff. The Fed will have to eat them. We’ll be importing inflation, the prices of goods will keep going up. America is in a hole of our own digging. What can be done?
The Fed has two choices, both of them unpromising. 1) “Tightening.” By measured increments, the Fed quits QE, (quantitative easing, buying bonds, a.k.a. “monetizing debt”) not just US treasury paper, but also corporate bonds, and mortgage-backed securities. They move to raise interest rates to above par with real inflation rates to give people back the old reality-based incentive for buying bonds in the first place, which is a reliable stream of interest greater than inflation. The last time inflation threatened America, 1981, Fed Chairman Paul Volcker jacked up fed fund (short-term) rates to 20 percent, which put the schnitz on borrowing for a time, caused a recession, but got-er done. The catch is, the national debt and the balance sheet of the Fed were minuscule then compared to the incomprehensible trillions on-board now. And there was still a lot of actual productive industry left in the country.
An end to quantitative easing combined with raising interest rates would recalibrate markets to equilibrium — which is to say, crash them, because the end of near-zero interest would mean no more using leverage (borrowed money) to buy stocks, which are wildly overvalued after years and years of these shenanigans. The bid on stocks would end. Not enough buyers to meet sellers. Markets go down. That prompts more selling… a rush to the exits… look out below….
Tightening would crash the value of bonds, too, because bond value has an inverse relationship to interest rates — as they rise, the tradable price of bonds goes down. So, bond-holders would take a bath. Tightening actually makes money disappear — phhhtttt! — because it causes defaults (people not paying off their debts). In our system, money is loaned into existence and welshed-on loans sends money out of existence. People and corporations go broke. Higher interest rates also will make corporations default on their bond payments. Without access to more debt, many big companies may have to shut down, go out of business, perhaps forever. Government, buried under massive debt, would choke on higher interest payments. As money goes out of existence, capital becomes scarce and small business, which desperately depends on revolving credit, goes broke. The net effect of all this damage in financial markets is of deep economic depression, in this case, the long emergency case , probably a depression that becomes permanent since the basis of this particular high-energy economy, the oil industry, collapses along with everything else.
The Federal Reserve’s choice number 2) is: Don’t tighten. Rather, continue to print money like crazy, maybe even more than before, and keep trying to suppress interest rates. Keep buying bonds, notes, whatever debt paper the system pukes up. This is just the tired old scheme called kicking the can further down the road . The problem is, we’re at the end of the road. Old-school inflation had already kicked off in 2021 from two decades of QE, which was then greatly aggravated by the massive government spending to mitigate Covid. There’s no more jiggering with bond-buying and finagling the interest rates, and playing hide-the-salami with bank reserves, and stashing money in “special purpose vehicles” and other banking hidey-holes that will avail to keep things stable and happy. From here on, printing money like crazy only destroys the value of our money. You’ll have plenty of money, only it’ll get more worthless by the day — which is just another way of going broke.
Then, as the dollar purchases less and less stuff, dollars held overseas get dumped in exchange for whatever stuff is on offer: ores, grain, finished products, US real estate, precious metals, other less-damaged currencies, what-have-you. Better to own things of actual value than dollars that are fast-losing their purchasing power. Foreigners dump US treasury bonds, too, since inflation destroys their value. As foreigners do this, the dollars return home to the US provoking yet more inflation. Before long, America is awash in dollars and short on goods that you can buy with those dollars. You’re rich in dollars yet broke at the same time.
The outcome in both cases is substantially the same: the standard-of-living in America goes way down. What I predict for 2022 is that the Federal Reserve will embark on a much-heralded tightening program — and then abandon it at the first sign of trouble, the inevitable stock market downturn. Then the Fed will be back to buying our own debt paper and attempting to stuff interest rates back down, if they can, which may not be possible anymore. The Fed soon loses all control over American money. They may try to retire “old” dollars and replace them with “new” dollars backed by something, gold and silver being the obvious candidates. That will lead to a severe upward re-pricing of both metals. Let’s predict gold at $5,000 and silver at $200 by the end of 2022.
There may be a half-assed attempt to establish some kind of official US digital currency (this has been rumored for years). The experiment will fail. Americans will resist being herded into that corral where their every financial transaction is traceable, taxable, and punishable. They will have learned their lesson about that from the Covid-19 tyrannies. They are sick of being pushed around. They no longer trust the authorities in money, government, medicine, or anything else. Anyway, as a practical matter, too many Americans operate on the fringes of the system already and depend on cash for doing all their business. Many of these are what’s called “un-banked.” They cannot participate in computerized payment systems. They will remain outside the digi-loop doing business with silver, gold, or various kinds of stuff. They’ll operate like 14th century Venetians.
I kind of doubt Bitcoin and its imitators will survive a whole lot longer after the financial system is forced to recalibrate to reality. They have thrived solely as targets of speculation. The block-chain is very clever, but ultimately Bitcoin and its ilk represent… nothing… no-thing(s). They attracted a lot of money that was just sloshing around the system during the years of artificial pseudo-prosperity, and that’s over. Anyway, they depend utterly on a stable Internet and electric grid to function and you’d be surprised at the fragility lurking in both those systems. Early 2022 may be your last chance to get out of Bitcoin with anything to show for your adventures in it.
Politics and Society
The mass formation psychosis described by Mattias Desmet of the University of Ghent is behind much of what we’ve been seeing in US politics for some years now. It was apparently triggered by the election of Donald Trump. But it seems to me the syndrome was groomed and cultivated by America’s “deep state” security, surveillance, and intelligence apparatus for decades before. Liberal Democrats didn’t have to go batshit crazy over Trump. Rather, they were manipulated into it by the deep state’s agents in the major media, starting with the preposterous RussiaGate collusion psy-op and extending through four years of nefarious schemes to disable and oust Mr. Trump. Though portrayed as the arch-enemy of the pets and pet projects of the Left — identity Marxism, open borders — as president, Mr. Trump was really much more a threat to the deep state itself, and to its matrix of wealth, power, and privilege, and they pulled out all the stops except assassination to shove him off the game-board.
His perseverance and resilience in the face of all that, was remarkable. But in the end, his enemies engineered an election marinated in various flavors of fraud, and managed to get rid of the Golden Golem of Greatness. How “Joe Biden,” the empty husk of a grifting, ward-heeling pol, came to be nominated by the Democratic Party is one of the abiding mysteries of modern times. His victory in the Super Tuesday primary, which cinched the nomination for him, was surely rigged by the DNC. His campaign, from start to finish, was a sham of hiding from the public. If the voters had been allowed to see the material on his son, Hunter, and the slime-trail of bribes recorded in hundreds of emails, contracts, and other documents on the “laptop from Hell,” “Joe Biden” would be in federal prison rather than the White House. But Facebook, Twitter, and Google conspired to censor all mention of that, and the people never got the news. So, now what?
Well, moving into the early winter of 2022, Americans are discovering just how badly they have been played on Covid-19, and how badly “Joe Biden” & Co. have handled economic matters and other things, like the daily invasion across the Mexican border, and how poorly “JB” & Co. have managed our foreign relations — the Afghan withdrawal fiasco, etc — and generally what a pathetic a figure “JB” presents to the world… and all this is looking like the ghost dance of the Democratic Party. Let’s predict the party will not survive the 2022 midterm elections intact as a coherent political faction.
I’ll give 70 / 30 odds that “Joe Biden” steps aside “for health reasons” well before the midterm election. He’s falling apart before our eyes. He can barely utter a comprehensible sentence. He embarrasses himself and the country every day. His poll numbers are in the sub-basement…. So, okay, he basically takes a dive and retires from the scene. Kamala Harris is sworn in. President Harris nominates Barack Obama as vice-president. Say, what…!
Mr. Obama is back in charge — like, was he ever not in charge since Jan 20, 2021, really? — going so far as to brazenly occupy the Oval Office as Veep for daily business — consigning Ms. Harris to a broom closet. Democrats clamor for Ms. Harris to resign and officially hand the reins to Mr. Obama. (Presidents are limited to two elected terms in office, but the constitution does not stipulate such a circumstantial appointment to office.) Kamala graciously steps aside. For the sake of “unity” and gender balance, Mr. Obama nominates Liz Cheney as the new vice-president. That’s one possible scenario. Rewrite that play with Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. The Democrats are going to have to try some desperate move to retain power.
Even so, it’s hard to imagine any circumstances in which the Democratic Party retains effective control of the government. In the event that the midterm election is actually held, let’s predict Republicans regain majority control of the House and Senate, with many new faces of the MAGA persuasion among them. The Dems hopes and dreams for transformative change get flushed down the toilet. Government at the national level becomes impotent, ineffectual, unable to discharge its duties or manage anything — all this predicted explicitly, by the way, in The Long Emergency (Grove-Atlantic, 2005). Will our foreign adversaries take advantage of the situation? Can the fifty states manage their affairs without subsidies from Washington DC? Governors had better be planning for strange times.
The political right has been careful and cautious since the debacle of the January 6, 2021 march on the Capitol building. The poor boobs cajoled by FBI plants to break into the joint have been treated abominably by their government, and probably extra-legally. But mainly, the Jan. 6th caper put a damper on any more right-wing street action during “Joe Biden’s” year in office. That may change in 2022. The mood of politically-motivated people on either side of the spectrum has got to be aggravated by the tanking economy. And as the year rolls on, it will just be hungry, angry Americans of all sorts raising hell because they don’t know what else to do.
All the anxiety driving the mass formation psychosis that had first focused on Trump, and then on Covid-19 (and the unvaccinated), may now finally shift its energy at the actual source of our woes and sorrows: the DC establishment. The decline and fall of Covid-19 is going to leave a big hole in the nation’s anxious, wasted soul, and it will have to be filled with something. We’re thrust into a scene that resembles Civil War, but it becomes harder and harder to determine who is on what side, or what the sides even are — or as Mick Jagger famously hollered at Altamont CA in ’69, “Who’s foit-ing an’ whut faw?” It’s sheer clusterfuck. Murphy’s Law meets Zombieland during Seven Days in May .
Gawd, who knows…? The Russians are sorely pissed because thirty years ago after the Soviet system clocked out, and eventually Vlad Putin tried to paste some kind of functioning nation back together out of the debris, we promised them in plain talk to not expand NATO, and then, year after year, we proceeded to add more countries to NATO including former Soviet Republics hedging right up to Russia’s border. Then, the US under Mr. Obama ran the “color revolution” in Ukraine, attempting to strong-arm that pathetic punching bag of a state to come over to our side… and having done that, we’re now threatening to bring them into NATO, meaning we would like to station rockets and perhaps troops and all kinds of other military stuff on what has been the doormat for every attempted invasion of Russia in modern history. Are you surprised that Russia has drawn a line in the sand there?
One can’t have a whole lot of confidence in Anthony Blinken’s State Department or in General Milley’s Woked-up, transsexual army that calling Russia’s bluff on this might work out well for the USA. Considering how economically weak we are now, how tragically disunited we are, how pussified and squishy we’ve become, maybe starting a war over Ukraine isn’t such a hot idea. One can only hope.
On the other side is China, Uncle Xi’s re-born Middle Kingdom, with gleaming skyscrapers, dazzling new airports and highways, the fabulous social credit system for controlling her huge population Orwell-style. China has a lot going for her, but what’s going against her isn’t so obvious, starting with the fact that she’s hurting for long-term fossil fuel supplies. China just doesn’t have that much oil or natgas, and she’s using ever-lower quality coal to drive her industry. Her oil imports have to travel through two global choke-points, the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca. In short, despite China’s great strides moving from the twelfth century into dazzling modernity, she might stumble on the energy quandary — like all the other “advanced” nations.
It’s no secret that under the ambitious Marxist emperor Xi Jinping, China wants to occupy the World Hegemon role that America is struggling not to abandon. Hegemon-ship usually requires geographical expansion. We’re certainly concerned about a takeover of Taiwan, which is, effectively, America’s offshore microchip facility. China could conceivably gain control over Taiwan by a thousand tiny steps without firing a shot — as the CCP has infiltrated US politics, media, and education — or by force, if only to make a theatrical point, but why invite the possibility of a nuclear exchange?
China has been adventuring in many remote parts of the world for years without drawing much international attention, buying farmland and mining sites throughout East Africa, and now she is eyeing openings in several resource-rich South American nations that recently elected friendly socialist presidents. China was awarded contracts to operate ports at both ends of the strategically important Panama Canal over twenty years ago, and Panama signed a memorandum of agreement to join China’s Belt-and-Road initiative in 2017. That got the attention of the Trump administration, which was meeting China’s expansionism with tariffs and sanctions. Mr. Trump caused several Chinese infrastructure projects for bridges, high-speed rail, and port improvements in the Canal Zone to be suspended. “Joe Biden,” a major Chinese client, is now looking the other way.
Can China actually control the unruly lands of Central Asia vital to her Belt-and-Road ambitions? For instance, Afghanistan, where China looks to establish giant mining operations, but has yet to tangle with the feisty Taliban. Let’s predict that China in 2022 is stymied in expansion and hamstrung by her energy problems. And add to that trouble in her export markets of the USA and Europe, as they begin to implode financially and the demand for Chinese manufactured goods declines.
Then there is China’s banking morass, bazillions of loans gone bad, giant businesses wobbling, and collateral in the form of a thousand skyscrapers built out of cement so inferior that it’s a miracle the buildings still stand up. How will China’s fragile banking system contend with contagion from the financial problems of the US and Europe? Let’s predict that China finds herself in enough economic difficulty that domestic disorder breaks out, the government over-reacts to it, and she becomes too paralyzed with internal political problems to make any mischief beyond her border for now.
Finally, Europe. Oh, lovely Europe, the tourist theme-park of my lifetime with its beautiful cities, tidy landscapes, its cafes, cathedrals, girls on motorbikes, its fabulous deep culture. Looks like the whole shebang is going down the chute now, with intimations of a return to 20th century political upheaval. Somehow, Covid-19 has provoked Austria and Germany to return to behavior that smells a little bit like what went on in the Hitler years. Hard to believe, I know, but look at them! Police state tactics! Forced vaccinations! Lockdowns! Harsh punishments for those who resist. It’s sickening, and looks like it’s getting entrenched.
Euroland’s economy is a mess. Its energy problems are worse than China’s. Except for Norway, with its dwindling North Sea oil fields, and some played-out coal mines, Europe has next to nothing for fossil fuels. Germany’s feckless “green” wind-and-solar project hasn’t worked out. She is more and more dependent on Russian oil and gas, and Germany’s position in NATO subjects her to the machinations of the USA against Russia, which has stymied the opening of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. They may end up freezing this winter, and starving the following winter. The European banking system is a laughable fraud, since the EU has no control of the fiscal decisions made by member governments that issue increasingly worthless bonds. It’s going to be a rough year there with governments coming and going — stumbling as they go. Perhaps France gets a little lucky. The maverick journalist Éric Zemmour wins the election as president and spurs a revival of French national spirit. He’s still stuck with the rot in financials, but at least he bolsters the country’s morale. And unlike the Germans, France did not choose to close down its nuclear power industry, so the lights stay on there.
There you have it, ye denizens of Clusterfuck Nation. I can do no more with this. I wish you all fortitude in the twelve months ahead, and courage, and kindness, and all the good things that we are capable of. We’ll need that. There is still a lot to cherish about this country of ours, the good old USA, and I believe we’ll rediscover that in Double-deuce, along with some ability to tell ourselves the truth about things that matter and act consistently with it! Excelsior, brave hearts!