Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A 'cry from the wilderness' for truth-telling, mask-removal and global leadership

 Anyone who thinks that the world is “going to hell in a basket” is being well “fed” among critics, deeply embedded in their field of speciality, who pour their insights, words, and even warnings into our eyes and ears and perhaps even our minds and hearts.

Growing up on a news diet of “negatives” especially those that shock (the man bit the dog!), and then forging our way through elementary, secondary, undergrad and perhaps even postgrad classrooms and seminar rooms, we have been taught something called “critical thinking”. It is a way of deciphering the many “wheats from the chaffs” that writes, political leaders, professors, and especially clergy were dispensing.

And much of the cultural lens of that critical thinking depending on incidental reports, stories of single events, or perhaps developing stories about trends that flagged storms of the horizon (metaphorically and literally, in many fields). And the predominant fast-food-menu of that news and information diet tended to generate perceptions that wormed their way into our common and shared perceptions:

·       law enforcement here to protect and serve the community

·       schools are safe harbours concentrating on “conserving” the culture

·       “God” is holding ‘the whole world in his hands’

·       the world is a scary place, but more so for those “on the other side of the tracks, or other side of the world

·       our leaders tell the truth, while foreign leaders do not

·       doctors and dentists know all there is to know about how to help us stay healthy and heal when we need to

·       hospitals are places for babies to be born, appendices removed, gall bladders removed, and old people die

·       professions like law and medicine are primarily for upper class kids, and most of those are men

·       teaching, nursing, social work are reserved for women

·       small town retail businesses were places where you purchased what you needed from people you knew and trusted

·       radio and television were broadcast networks for entertainment and appointment viewing/listening

·       wars were fought “over there”

·       floods and large fires were infrequent and largely manageable

·       pregnant teens were sent away to have their babies

·       churches were repositories of all the “best” people in the town, where holy occasions, sermons, Sunday School lessons, choirs and pot-lucks were conducted and celebrated

A sewn patch-work quilt of concepts served as both guideposts and safety and security blankets. And, from there, we ventured “out” into the wider world. John F. Kennedy was a Hollywood-type idol who followed a venerated war veteran president, Eisenhower and those of us who were coming of age took note. (We were unaware of his pecadilloes but intensely celebrative of his “Camelot.)

There was something called the “cold war” that seemed to be some kind of epic tension involving the United States and the Soviet Union, and “God” was on the side of the U.S….The Soviets were something called “atheists”…so we were told, and so we believed.

It was a rather simple and manageable world, for the most part, after the Second World War, an experience of our parents and grandparents, but only a textbook experience for us.

As more complex injections of technology, military materiel, scientific and medical treatments and diseases and a broader and deeper familiarity with world events washed over us, we naturally attempted, however superficially and nervously, to learn about and to integrate them into our world view.

Whatever else remained outside our consciousness, we simply did not know or perhaps even care about. We were busy with those things that we had to do to complete an education, find a job, start a family and then integrate ourselves into that mesh of people and activities. We might have ‘studied’ the range of appearance/reality themes in literature, as part of our introduction into the complexity and magnetism of writers, and through them, of the world at large. For the most part however, we were simply “innocent” and “ignorant” (ignosco, I do not know) of many of the darker forces that were rumbling outside our perceptions, both personal and collective.

Today, that innocence is being shattered, more quickly and more destructively than Hillary’s glass ceiling for women. We are learning of things we would not have imagined in our first quarter century. And it is not so much that horror stories like the Holocaust were not on our radar; they certainly were. It is more likely that we did not envision such massacres, or such tragedies on such a scale were so prevalent. Perhaps that is a good thing, leaving us a slight bit freer from the burden of how to “bear” the full truth of that dark monster, as a human potential, far beyond Hitler and the Third Reich.

However “deep” and permanent was our layer of self-inflicted, welcomed and substantiated “delussions”, we maintained it somewhat consciously and even more unconsciously.

Today, the unconscious, like shame, has been shredded like the ozone, but the proliferation of pieces of information, gathered and shared by people who have a special interest in their being shared, ostensibly for the higher purpose of protecting ourselves from the dangers we are currying, in our collective detachment, blindness, or even self-preservation.

Yesterday, I read a column in The Star that hit me where I was not. expecting to be struck. I have such a little knowledge of ‘economics’ including both fiscal and monetary policy, public finance, deficits and debt, that a thimble would be barely half full of what I “know”. I do not know the writer, a Canadian businessman named Frank Giustra, listed as ‘contributing columnist’ in The Star. For those who have not read it, I will share highlights.

Guistra opens with a quote from Voltaire:

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reason for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.

In his opening paragraph, he writes:

 It almost feels as if there is a universal collective denial of the obvious facts. And, truthfully, I believe there is something much more insidious at play, and the precarious state of the U.S. financial system is, in fact, known to those who pull or influence the levers of monetary policy….

What started out as the occasional Fed (Federal Reserve) reaction to a series of financial crises in the late 90’s, evolved into a permanent “free money” policy that ha sonly benefited Wall Street and the very wealthy. When the inevitable happened and the housing bubble burst in 2008. The Fed and the government’s misguided attempts to bail out the financial system led us into a much more dangerous place. I believe we are now at a point of no return that is unprecedented in history….

But if you listen to Fed chair Jerome Powell, along with almost any of the Wall Street talking heads, you would be led to believe that the current  $120-billion (U.S.) monthly QE (Quantitative Easing, remember the phrase from the Bernanke chairmanship of the Fed) can be tapered, and that (interest) rates can eventually be normalized. In turn, the markets trade as if these words are gospel. It’s as if everyone wishes to be blissfully ignorant of several annoying facts.

The facts, among other things, area that global debt has more than doubled since the 2008 financial crisis to $300 trillion (U.S.). Everyone is levered to the hilt; corporations, hedge funds, individuals and, most importantly governments. U.S. federal debt has tripled since 2008 and is now touching on $30 trillion. In 2020, the U.S> government spent
$371 billion on interest payments on its debt. And that’s at near zero interest rates. If the Fed allowed interest rates to rise in any8 material way, the U.S. government would either default or- more likely- enter an endless cycle of money printing. Even at current rates and with the ongoing multi-trillion dollar annual budget deficits, the die is cast. We have clearly sailed past the event horizon of an enormous black hole.

There is an aspect of the current situation that policy-makers never acknowledge. After 60 years of Fed fund rates averaging five to six percent, when the 2008 crisis hit the Fed’s monetary policy then landed us in a permanent range that hovers between zero and slightly above two percent. All attempts to raise rates above two per cent have failed, mostly due to Wall Street market tantrums. Meanwhile, inflation is hovering around sex per cent, which means that real interest rates are deep in negative territory to the tune of -4,5 per cent, if you use the 10-year treasure bonds as a measure….

Economist Mohamed A. El-Erian points to the recklessness of “Fed speak” in a too polite manner. ‘At one level, this hesitancy should not come as a huge surprise given the usual behavioural traps: in this case, they include inappropriate framing, confirmation biases, narrative inertia, and resistance to a loss of face. Yet, its persistence in the face of repeatedly contradictory data seriously increases the risk of otherwise-avoidable economic, financial, institutional and social damage.’ I (Giusra) would be less polite. These are intelligent people who know exactly what they are doing. Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen and Powell, while in power, will all do what I expected of them and, as we have witnessed, only become critics once they retire.

Giusra then quotes Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind”…human beings differentiate ourselves from other life forms by our ability to tell each other (and believe in) stories. These collective delusions-ethics, religion, rule of law, etc- enable co-operation and progress. One such collective fiction, and a particularly successful one, is money.

Giusra’s closing line:

It looks as if we are currently living in a collective delusion of money and markets, aided and abetted by a loosely aligned club of players. God help us.

We watch and listen as the CDC announces tactical moves to deal with the complicated balance between personal and social “safety” from the pandemic and the need to have health care workers, airline workers, especially, return to work after only 5 days of quarantine rather than 10. The efficacy of vaccines themselves, is under scepticism from many quarters, while the need to have the vaccines jabbed into arms around the world is our only real hope of ‘roping’ this virus into a manageable fence.

If our financial “chief executives” are over-levered, as well as our governments, (no one would protest support payments in the middle of a global pandemic) and no truth is being sounded and heard and then applied to the situation, in this “market and money” two-headed monster under which we are living, there is reason for even more critical analysis, dissemination of these scary facts, and the alleged “cover-up” to which we are all subject.

In so many crisis situations, in law enforcement, we hear the cliché, “The crime is not the real problem: it is the cover-up that is really worrisome.”

And yet if and when the “system” itself is engaged in such a massive cover-up, as Giusra seems to suggest, how are the people of the world to begin the arduous process of peeling this onion?

Rest assured, the “establishment” are not about to be the first in line, when the trumpet sounds to recruit onion peelers. Neither, unfortunately, will the establishment media, whose existence depends on the very money and markets already distorted, and whose complicity with Wall Street is permanent. Think tanks, perhaps, linked to a world-wide information campaign by agencies like the World Bank and the BRIC bank, working together, might begin that onion-peeling process.

Given the reality even non-economic and financial scholars like this scribe can see that another global crisis is facing all of us, is it now timely to ask a cluster of world leaders, from the “west” and the “east” and the “north” and the “south” to sit down and begin the long and tortuous and even dangerous process of peeling this onion, as a window into the multiply other global issues needing committed, courageous and trustworthy leadership.

Note to Angela Merkel, Barrack Obama, Gordon Brown, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair, David Millband, Paul Martin, George W. Bush, Sergei Lavrov….the list continues…..

Are you still willing and able to serve in a new capacity to bring some “world order” and truth-telling to the fires burning in our forests and beneath the earth’s geological and mental/perceptual crust?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home