We are the Pea

SUBHEAD: The pea under the walnut shell can’t see much outside, but it can certainly feel the earth tremble.

By James Kunstler on 1 Jul 2013 for Kunstler.com -

Image above:The classic shell game with walnut shells hiding the pea. From (http://www.soxfirst.com/50226711/deutsche_banks_accounting_shell_games.php).

The political air lies thick and heavy upon us, like the subtropical wedge of atmospheric sludge that has bogged down the northeast USA for weeks of soupy gray days when there is nothing to do but wonder when things will become unstuck. If the world is an organism, something is wrong with its blood. That blood is money, which allows the “developed” nations to run their advanced techno-industrial economies. 

Only the “money” is not exactly what we suppose it is, that is, colored paper coupons representing claims on future work or tangible collateral. The “money” is a matrix of counterparty entanglements so abstruse and impenetrable that all the vicars of Christendom (plus the mullahs of Islam, the monks of  Mahayana, and the Op-Ed flunkies at The New York Times) would not avail to describe its metaphysical substance. Rather, a cosmic shell game is being played and we are the pea.

Unlike other commentators, I don’t see this as a conspiracy of one-percenters, Rothschilds, Bilderbergers, and United Nations intriguers. Rather, it is just a sticky pass in world history. Things have gone a certain way for us for a long time, and now they can’t, and the inertia from all those decades of doing and being what we were persists in the illusion of motion, like the sound of a truck that still rings in your ears after it has passed by. 

So we, the pea, sit in the dark under our cosmic walnut shell, waiting to see what happens next.

When the Great Bernanke spoke not long ago, an ominous rattling was heard throughout the banking system as of things shaking loose. Even if nobody quite understood exactly what money was anymore, an intimation wafted on the still, muggy air that there was liable to be less of it, at least in the form that The Wall Street Journal pretended to understand — a particular digital carry-trade between the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve. 

Markets puked at Bernanke’s mild utterances as though he was Thor flinging a thunderous hammer at them. The gold market, already punch-drunk, went reeling into the roadside weeds, covered indecorously in its own vomit — leading many to suppose that gold would soon be as precious as sheetrock. 

Then, the Great Bernanke, via subordinates, tapered his tapering talk and a nervous, tentative, march forward resumed into the summer pea soup of events. Here we are, waiting, waiting in the murk, for the sound of shoes dropping.

If you listen carefully enough, you can hear a few things in motion distantly. The mobs roistering in surprising places — Sweden, Turkey, Brazil — ought to unnerve even the quants immersed in their charts and auguries. Something wicked this way emanates from Japan. It has the outline of a political death-wish and is being played out with the sharp instruments of capital. The Japanese, I suspect, have at least had enough of uncertainty and have elected to move toward resolution, whatever that may hold. 

One thing it will mean is that the hands of bankers elsewhere around the world will be forced by what Japan does. Interest rates, for example, do not exist in exquisite isolation but only in relation to other things, most particularly that money earlier alluded to, of which nobody knows the value. The answer to that may lie in the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma known as derivatives.

My own guess is that we’ll discover the value of gold is not equivalent to its weight in sheetrock. The third quarter of 2013 might go down in history as the great moment of price re-discovery in a world that thought — for a while — that the price of things can be whatever you say it is. Historians of the future, squatting in the plastic and silicon midden-heaps of bygone technocracy, may note that FASB Rule 157 provoked a four-year psychotic episode of worldwide accounting fraud in which anything could mean anything. 

That only goes on so long until civilizations shudder and fall. 

The pea under the walnut shell can’t see much outside, but it can certainly feel the earth tremble.


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