Nothing Left to Steal

SUBHEAD: Shortly thereafter everyone realizes that the chips they are holding are not all that valuable any more. By Dmitry Orlov on 18 March 2011 in ClubOrlov - (http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2011/03/nothing-left-to-steal.html) Image above: Ceramic poker chips for sale at 67¢ a piece. From (http://www.pokerchiplounge.com/poker-chips/ceramic-poker-chips.html). Michael Betancourt is an intellectual: he uses words like semiosis and actually knows exactly what they mean. Speaking on The Keiser Report he made some interesting points about the pile of digital ephemera that the global financial system, and much of the economy with it, has devolved into. From 20:52 on (video here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRTfex2VQ7g), Michael has this to say on the current action in the financial markets around the world:
I wouldn't necessarily say "steal" ... I just don't feel that "stealing" is necessarily the right verb for this. It's something else. Stealing [implies] that there is some kind of physical commodity that's being stolen... that the currency is being debased implies that if we didn't do this the currency would be solvent, and the whole problem here is that the currency itself is disconnected from any kind of physical value. It exists as a debt against future production rather than a store of value. And all of this comes down to the immaterial basis that we are now living in. So, yes, in a sense you could say that they are stealing, [but] in another sense you could say that they are not stealing because there is nothing to be stolen... The reality is that this is an unsustainable system, and that the inevitability of its collapse has been there almost from the beginning, because the entire system is based on a currency that is not based on anything—it exists only in relation to other currencies...
On the protesters in Wisconsin and elsewhere:
What makes this even more perverse is that what they are fighting for is the continuation of their entrapment... The powers that are currently acting and that are causing these riots, protests, rebellions... are fighting for their own survival, and the shift that's happening is perverse because we are driving towards a collapse, and it is almost inevitable that we are going to have this collapse again at some point. To a certain extent I think it may have already started with the credit freeze in 2009. The attempt to print our way out of it isn't going to result in hyperinflation necessarily (although there are people who are saying that it will) so much as it will result in a complete revaluation of the system, in which we arrive at some other, new equilibrium. Part of the problem with getting there is that there are forces fighting over who has the largest number of these essentially immaterial objects, this immaterial currency. What will happen is that at some point they will have most of it (and we are moving towards that already, if you look at any of the various numbers on who has the wealth and who doesn't). What will happen when it gets concentrated enough is that the entire system will freeze up like it did in 2009. This is because the equilibrium and the maintenance and the survival of this system depends upon the circulation of these immaterial commodities. As soon as they start getting hoarded, or as soon as people who have them start cashing out and into some sort of physical commodity, both of these can trigger an imminent collapse, not necessarily in the sense of a bank run or a panic, but in the sense that the system can no longer feasibly maintain its own equilibrium... it drives towards ever greater disequilibrium, because that's the ground state for this sort of a situation, where you have vast immaterial production versus limited physical production.
I would tend to agree. The value of financial assets rests on the promise of future industrial production, which will fail to materialize due to shortages of multiple key resources. In the updated edition of Reinventing Collapse (which is scheduled to go to press next week), I try to get at much the same thing as Michael, trying hard to avoid big words like “disequilibrium”:
The extent to which we value money depends on our degree of confidence in the economy. At first, as the economy starts to collapse, we start to hoard money, to make sure that we don’t run out. Then, as the economy continues to wither away, supply disruptions and price spikes cause some of us to suddenly realize that we might not be able to gain access to the things we need for much longer, never mind the cost, and that running out of money is not fatal whereas running out of food, fuel and other supplies certainly can be. And then we start cashing in our paper assets in exchange for physical commodities we think might be more useful. Shortly thereafter everyone realizes that the chips they are holding are not all that valuable any more. It is this realization, more than anything else, that renders the chips instantly worthless. [RC 2.0 p. 54-55]
In recent months I have had many occasions to walk through Boston's financial district and look at all the suit-and-tie-wearing lab rats whose job is to push buttons to try to stimulate the pleasure center of some wealthy person's brain. The vast majority of what they trade is derived from debt secured by future production that will not exist. At what point will their patron's pleasure cross the pain threshold? Will we see the ├╝ber-wealthy immolating themselves on pyres of their now worthless money, just to escape the anguish of being disencumbered of their phantom possessions? I hope for everyone to survive with their precarious sanity intact, but I can't help but look forward to a Bonfire of the Vanities to put this lengthy episode of breathless financial self-digiting behind us. .

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