"Consumerism" is dead--can Obama lead us to a downscaled lifestyle?

Author:Kunstler, James Howard
Position:Less Energy - Viewpoint essay
 
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The public perception of the ongoing fiasco in governance has moved from sheer, mute incomprehension to goggle-eyed panic as the scrims of unreality peel away revealing something like a national death-watch scene in history's intensive care unit. Is the USA in recession, depression, or collapse? People are at least beginning to ask. Nature's way of hinting that something truly creepy may be up is when Paul Volcker and George Soros both declare on the same day that the economic landscape is looking darker than the Great Depression.

In the broad blogging margins of the web that orbit the mainstream media like the rings of Saturn, an awful lot of reasonable people have begun to ask whether President Obama is a stooge of whatever remains of Wall Street, with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs's puppeteer, Robert Rubin, pulling strings behind an arras in the Oval Office. Personally, I doubt it, but it is still a little hard to understand what the President is up to. For one thing, the stimulus package, so-called, looks more and more like a national sub-prime mortgage itself, a bad bargain made under less than realistic terms, with future obligations fobbed onto whoever inhabits this corner of the world for the next seven hundred years--and all to pay for a bunch of granite counter-tops and flat-screen TVs.

I suppose Mr. Obama is burdened with the knowledge that the economic truth is so much worse than he imagined back in November that there is simply nothing to do at this point except pretend to serve up a "tasting menu" of rescue plans in the hope that markets and mechanisms might be conned back into compliance with our wish to keep getting something for nothing forever. FDR already used the fear of fear itself trope, so Mr. O is left with little more than displaying pluck and confidence in the face of overwhelming bad news.

The sad truth is that banking has become a Chinese fire drill--a frantic act of futility--as insolvent companies persist in covering up their losses in order to avoid the counter-party hell of credit default swaps that would ring the world's "game over" bell. This can only go on so long. All the chatter about "nationalizing" the banks really boils down to what kind of bankruptcy work-out will they be put through, how destructive will the process be, and how much of the pain can be shoved forward in time to people now in diapers and their descendants.

Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn't...

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