Goodbye to the Value Subtracting “Finance Economy”

Peter Jones Wu Wei

Happy End of 2008! As we pounded the year into oblivion, many of my  favorite blogs flogged the predictions for 2009. Normally, next-year predictions are a yawning so-what. Given the palpable trepidation in the cultural climate though, more attention than usual has been brought to bear.

See, for example, the collection at Depression2.TV (as in, will not be televised). Mr. Nystrom called the end of the era almost to the day, when he shut down his contrarian econ-news service Bull/Not-Bull on August 21, 2008. He re-opened the old D2 site when the time was right.

Reading some of the linked pages, some predictions are just bizarre, and many (especially the psychics) are just mundane, Among the dire calls are several salient themes – reinforcing the transformation of society called for by Yellow Springs friends Community Solutions, and the Pat Murphy book Plan C:

Kunstler on 2009 Much of what has been lost in 2008 will not be recovered: enterprises, personal fortunes, chattels, reputations.

Pablo Ouziel: Witnessing the Decay of Western Hegemony and the Role of the Organic Intellectual

Dmitry Orlov The Five Stages of Collapse

Finally, Bill Bonner reams the end of the era in a recent Daily Reckoning:

The Soviets had managed to create a rare thing – a value-subtracting economy. They took valuable raw materials out of the ground and turned them into worthless finished products. If he had a choice, no one would buy soviet-made goods. Every sale made the seller poorer. And the longer this went on, the poorer the Russians got. Finally, the whole system caved in – in 1989, leaving the Anglo-Americans masters of earth, sky and the seven seas.

This next era, 1989-2007, was remarkably pleasing to almost everyone. Even former enemies rushed to stock the empire’s shelves and lend it money.

Overstretched, over-indebted and over-there… it had military bases all over the world. No swallow could fall nowhere in the world without it being captured and interrogated by the Pentagon or its proxies. Back in the homeland, the imperial race went a little mad. People spent too much money…distracted themselves with bread and circuses…and flattered themselves with delusions of mediocrity. It seemed perfectly normal to them that they consumed while the foreigners produced…and that they spent what the foreigners saved. Central banks encouraged the plebes to consume; the more they consumed, the poorer they got, but as long as they had someone else’s money to spend, they didn’t complain. The imperial youth studied gender sensitivity at school; rivals studied engineering.

Soon, competitors had more modern factories, more savings, better-trained workers – as well as lower costs. Then, the empire turned to a colossal conceit; that it could make its way in the world by financing things, rather than making them. Gradually, the Anglo Americans developed a value-subtracting society too – financing, derivatizing, borrowing, flipping, consuming – all at the expense of real production. Russians recognized the symptoms: the leadership was largely delusional, industrial capacity was largely archaic and dysfunctional, and the working class was largely broke.

Where are we now? Depending on your point of view, either a depression scenario as the corporate sector purges jobs, a DIY hunker-down scenario as in Plan C, or perhaps a remarkable opportunity emerging from the chaos for creative people to reinvent everything that matters. What’s to stop us?