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Part 7 (final): 2017, When The Wheels Finally Come Off

Kunstler  |  Howard Kunstler

Vagrant Thoughts on Geopolitics

As I write just before New Year’s Eve, President Obama is trying to start World War Three with Russia as a parting gift to the voting public. I’m among the skeptics who think that the “Russia Hacks Election story” is a ruse to divert the public’s attention from the stupendous failure of the Democratic Party to win, as expected. Rather, Wikileaks should get the Pulitzer Prize for revealing so much about the nefarious workings of the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee.

Regular readers know I didn’t vote for Trump, that I heaped considerable abuse on him in the campaign commentaries. But I didn’t take any comfort in the nostrum about being “better off with the Devil you know (Hillary) than the one you don’t know (Trump).” Both candidates were awful, and the condition of the country is pretty awful as we turn the corner onto 2017. Readers also know from these commentaries and from my books that I expect we will have to make big changes in our living arrangements up ahead as the techno-industrial fiesta winds down. I won’t reiterate the particulars here, but 2017 is the hinge year for that. The strains on global finance are so spectacular that something’s got give. President Trump is sure to be overwhelmed by epic dislocations in markets, currencies, debt, and misguided central bank efforts to hold back the tides of a necessary re-set — a re-set which will see a lot of wealth vanish and a lot of pain inflicted on the losers of wealth, including whole societies.

We have three major European elections to look forward to in 2017: The Netherlands and France in the Spring, and Germany in the fall. Geert Wilders (a member of the Trump Big Hair Club), is virulently against the “Islamisation” of his country. He has campaigned previously to leave the European Union and for the return to the old guilder currency. Should the right-wing Marine LePen win in France, the EU experiment will likely end — she has made express promises to take France out of the EU. Angela Merkel has made herself impressively unpopular by opening the gates to a flood of immigrants fleeing the breakdown zones of the Middle East and Africa. And then, because of the Schengen Agreement (free passage across EU borders), the immigrants were unleashed on the rest of Europe.

Those of us paying attention may have easily lost count of the terror atrocities carried out across Europe by Islamic fanatics. Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan, the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, the Brussels airport, the Berlin Christmas Market were only the most recent and spectacular. For years, individuals have been stabbed, had their heads cut off, throats cut, been blown up, machine-gunned. Take a look at this comprehensive list going back to 2001. You may be astonished. In that light, it’s pretty hard to keep waving the “diversity” banner, and I sense that Europe has had enough of it. One big question is whether the new European right-wing leaders will actually move as far as mass deportations. I rather think they will.

The UK “Brexit” vote was surprise all right. (I hit a white-tailed deer on the Maine Turnpike at 70mph that June morning, uccchhh, and lived to tell about it.) Now there’s a fair chance that Parliament will find a way to wiggle out of Brexit. Noises are also emanating out of Brussels to the effect that the EU could loosen up some of their rules — e.g. the Schengen Agreement — to induce Britain to stay in the EU. But there are so many other fissures and fragilities in that system that the Brexit may not matter anymore. The European banking system is melting down and there is absolutely no way to rescue it on the macro EU scale. Italy was heading for a banking crackup before Christmas. Deutsche Bank has been whirling around the drain for a couple of years. When the US markets and banks shudder in 2017, Europe will get the vapors. Hence, I’ll forecast breakup of the EU by this time next year.

We’ve come to the pass where “all that is solid melts into air,” in the poetic phrase of old Karl Marx. Marx was referring to the “specter” of communism that loomed over burgeoning industrial society of the mid-19th century, and indeed it turned into quite a world struggle through the century that followed. But now communism is down for the count and we begin to see what is truly melting into air: Modernity itself, this colossal, hulking, grinding, machine of destruction that threatens the global eco-system, and all its sub-systems including the human realms of money and politics.

The idea that Modernity itself might go down is inconceivable to those in thrall to the Religion of Progress, which declares that the world (and life in it) only gets better and better every year. This would appear demonstrably untrue, just in the visible damage to the landscape and the living things that struggle to dwell there. The most obvious problem with Modernity has been human population overshoot. The truth is, we’re not going to do a darn thing about it. There won’t be any policy or protocol, despite the good intentions of the groups inveighing against it. It will just go on… until it can’t, to paraphrase the late Herb Stein. Of course, people still have sex under conditions of hardship, so the population may plateau for a while until we are well into the long emergency. But the usual suspects of starvation, disease, and war are all still out there, doing their thing, and will only ramp up their operations.

The reason the Middle East and North Africa are melting down most conspicuously is because they are geographically among the places least well endowed for supporting the swollen populations they acquired over the past two hundred years. Iraq, Syria, the whole Arabian peninsula. Egypt, Libya, et. al. are all deserts artificially supported by the perquisites of Modernity: cheap energy, fertilizers made from that, irrigation,  money derived from it, and continuing life-support subsidies from even wealthier modern nations outside the region. In recent years that life-support has flipped into deadly violence imposed from both within and without, as homegrown Sunni ad Shiite vie for supremacy and their puppeteers in the First World rush in with bombers, rockets, and small arms to “help.”

Iraq and Libya were already goners in 2016. They’ll never be politically stable again in the modern sense. Egypt is still headed down the drain despite the grip of General al-Sisi and his army. In all these places the “youth bulge” has no prospects for earning a living or supporting a family. The young men, especially, put their energy into Jihad, revolution, and civil war because there’s nothing else to do. Making war may be thrilling, but it won’t lead to a better future because those benefits of Modernity are running out and there’s nothing to replace them.

Syria is the current goner-du-jour. Whatever it ends up being, either under Assad or someone else, it will not be stable the way it was. The USA ended up arming and funding the Sunni Salafist “bad guys” there because they opposed Shiite Iran and its regional proxy Hezbollah plus Assad. Russia eventually came in on that side on the theory that another failed state is not in the world’s interests. President Obama blinked after he drew his infamous “line in the sand” years ago and now America is too spooked to act directly. In fact, the Russians and Assad have the best chance of restoring a semblance of order, but America’s support for the “moderate” Salafists will necessarily keep undermining that. In the meantime, all this activity has sparked a demographic emergency as refugees flee the country for Europe and elsewhere, creating greater tensions where they land. Trump could stop the flow of US arms to our favored maniacs in Syria. He may see the practical benefit of letting Russia be the policeman on the beat there, and maybe he can sort out the underlying competing interest between the Russian-sponsored gas pipeline proposed to cross Syria and the American-sponsored one — a dynamic underlying all the mayhem there — and make some kind of “deal.” Or maybe he’ll just fuck it up even more.

The situation will grow increasingly acute in Saudi Arabia, where population growth outstrips the ability of oil production to pay for it. Their old “elephant” oil fields are aging out and they know quite well that they cannot depend on oil wealth many decades ahead. The trouble is, they have no realistic replacement for it, despite noises about creating other industries. The truth is, the country was cursed by its oil. It grew its population too much too fast in one of the most inhospitable corners of the globe, and it will take only a modest decline in oil income to destabilize the place altogether. To buffer that, Saudi leaders plan an IPO for shares in Saudi Aramaco — which was originally composed of American and western oil companies nationalized decades ago. That may get them a few hundred billion or so in walking-around money that won’t last very long considering that just about everybody in the nation is on the dole.

The big news in that corner of the world last year was the collapse of Yemen, which occupies a big slab on Saudi Arabia’s southern border. That poor-ass country is the latest Middle East basket-case and Saudi military operations there continue to date, using airplanes and weapons supplied by Uncle Sam — just another case of feeding Jihadist wrath.

Make no mistake — as our Presidents like to say — all these countries are heading back to the Middle Ages economically, maybe even further beyond. Their culture is still basically medieval. The main point is that Modernity inflated them and now Modernity is over and they’re either going to pop or deflate. One wild card for now is what effect climate change may have in ME/NA. If the trend is hotter, than that’s not good news for a region so poorly watered and so hot that air conditioning is mandatory for the pampered urban elites. Last one out, please turn off the lights.

Then there’s Turkey, for decades known as “the sick man of Europe.” Now, of course, it can’t even get into Europe, the EU, that is, and it’s probably too late to sweat that anyway. Back when it was “sick” it was quiet at least. You barely heard a peep from the fucker through the entire cold war and beyond. But now that the countries on its border are breaking down, things have understandably livened up in Turkey. It was, until World War One, the very seat of the Islamic Caliphate, and it controlled much of the territory now occupied by the nations creatively carved out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Turkey is still a power in the region, with a lot of well-watered, habitable territory and a GDP half the size of Italy’s, though shrinking. Its current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has shown twinges of megalomania in recent years, no doubt in fear of the radical Islam epidemic so close at hand. Lately, Kurdish extremists have been planting bombs around the country, too. Turkey has a lot to be paranoid about and Erdogan wants to change the constitution so he can act the strongman without a wimpy, pain-in-the-ass parliament weighing him down. He endured a coup last summer and came out of with consolidated power. But he’s capable of making another bonehead move like shooting down a Russian jet (2015). Meanwhile, Turkey’s currency is collapsing. The population is over 80 million. In the event of serious political upheaval, how many of them will try to flee to Europe?

Russia? It’s apparently stable. We hear no end of complaints about “Putin the Thug,” but in this time of altered reality and disinformation fog, it’s honestly impossible to tell what the fuck the score is. Has he bumped off some journalists? So they say. But, not to get to baroque about it, consider the impressive trail of dead bodies said to be left in the wake of Bill and Hillary. That story was so toxic that Google squashed searches for it during the election campaign. Putin seems to me, at worst, a competent and capable Czar, in a country that likes to be ruled by them. That’s their prerogative. He’s hugely popular, anyway, and it’s one of the unsung miracles of recent times that Russia transitioned out of the fiasco of communism into a pretty much normal modern society, with shopping, movies, tourism travel, and everything. The Russian people may look back at these decades as a golden age. They’ve been punished by Western sanctions for a few years now, but it has prompted them to promote their own version of a SWIFT Code for international banking transactions, and their own counterpart to the EU, the Eurasian Customs Union, and to manufacture some products of their own (import replacement).

Personally, I think the meme of “Russian aggression” is not born out by actual recent geopolitical reality. They are castigated constantly for wanting to march back into the Baltic States, Ukraine, and other former Soviet territories. Ukraine was made a basket case with direct American assistance. (Remember Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland: “Fuck the EU!”) Ukraine was rendered an instant failed state. As far as I could tell, the last thing Russia wanted was to take on Ukraine as an economic dependent. Same for the Baltic States. They need to subsidize these places like they need a hole in the head. Russia’s 2015 annexation of the Crimea was a special case, since it had been part of Russia one way or another for most of the past 200 years, except for the period after Khrushchev gifted it to his homeboys in Ukraine around 1957. Anyway, the Crimea was the site of Russia’s only warm-water naval ports. They’d rented it from Ukraine before the US pranged the country. The Crimean inhabitants voted to join Russia (why do we assume that was not sincere?).

Finally, as renowned Russologist Stephen Cohen has said, wouldn’t it make sense for the US and Russia to drop all this antagonism nonsense and make common cause against the real threat of our time: Islamic Jihad? How many Westerners has Russia killed or harmed the past twenty years compared to the forces of Jihad? The tensions in Syria are admittedly complex, but why are we making them worse while Russia attempts to stabilize the joint? Perhaps The Donald can start there….

As I write, Mr. Putin just announced that his country would not take any reciprocal action against American diplomats in retribution for Mr. Obama’s fugue of punishments meted out last week for the still-unproven “Russia Hacks Election” story. Personally, I’m content to wait three weeks and see if relations improve after Mr. Obama departs the Oval Office.

Finally, there’s China. I’m among those who believe China is running the most farkakta banking system on God’s green earth. We should not be surprised if it implodes in 2017, and does so pretty badly, in a way that might shake the foundations of the entire banking system. On that note, I confess that I have run out of forecast mojo for the year, and anyway this bulletin in long enough. If you’ve gotten this far, I commend and admire you hugely for your remarkable patience. Have a happy 2017 everybody, and don’t let our Trumpadelic president get you down.

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