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As our politicos creep deeper into a legalistic wilderness hunting for phantoms of Russian collusion, nobody pays attention to the most dangerous force in American life: the unraveling financialization of the economy.
Financialization is what happens when the people-in-charge “create” colossal sums of “money” out of nothing — by issuing loans, a.k.a. debt — and then cream off stupendous profits from the asset bubbles, interest rate arbitrages, and other opportunities for swindling that the artificial wealth presents. It was a kind of magic trick that produced monuments of concentrated personal wealth for a few and left the rest of the population drowning in obligations from a stolen future. The future is now upon us.
Financialization expressed itself in other interesting ways, for instance the amazing renovation of New York City (Brooklyn especially). It didn’t happen just because Generation X was repulsed by the boring suburbs it grew up in and longed for a life of artisanal cocktails. It happened because financialization concentrated immense wealth geographically in the very few places where its activities took place — not just New York but San Francisco, Washington, and Boston — and could support luxuries like craft food and brews.
Quite a bit of that wealth was extracted from asset-stripping the rest of America where financialization was absent, kind of a national distress sale of the fly-over places and the people in them. That dynamic, of course, produced the phenomenon of President Donald Trump, the distilled essence of all the economic distress “out there” and the rage it entailed. The people of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin were left holding a big bag of nothing and they certainly noticed what had been done to them, though they had no idea what to do about it, except maybe try to escape the moment-by-moment pain of their ruined lives with powerful drugs.
And then, a champion presented himself, and promised to bring back the dimly remembered wonder years of post-war well-being — even though the world had changed utterly — and the poor suckers fell for it. Not to mention the fact that his opponent — the avaricious Hillary, with her hundreds of millions in ill-gotten wealth — was a very avatar of the financialization that had turned their lives to shit. And then the woman called them “a basket of deplorables” for noticing what had happened to them.
And now the rather pathetic false promises of President Trump, the whole MAGA thing, is unraveling at exactly the same time that the financialized economy is entering its moment of final catastrophic phase-change. The monuments to wealth — especially the stock and bond portfolios and the presumed value of real estate investments — will surrender to a process you might call price-discovery-from-Hell, revealing their worth to be somewhere between little and nothing. The accumulated monstrous debts of persons, corporations, and sovereign societies, will be suddenly, shockingly, absolutely, and self-evidently unpayable, and the securities represented by them will be sucked into the kind of vortices of time/space depicted in movies about mummies and astronauts. And all of a sudden the avatars of that wealth will see their lives turn to shit just like the moiling, Budweiser-gulping, oxycontin-addled deplorables in the flat, boring, parking lot wastelands of our ruined drive-in Utopia saw their lives rendered into a brown-and-yellow slurry draining clockwise down the toilet of history.
Nobody in power in this country is paying attention to how close we are to that epic moment — at least, they’re not talking about it. If the possibility of all that even occupies some remote corner of their brains, they surely don’t know how to prepare the citizenry for it, or what to do about it. The truth is that societies respond emergently to major crises like the imminent unraveling of our financialized economy, often in disorderly and surprising ways. I suppose we’ll just have to watch the nauseating spectacle play out, and in the meantime enjoy the Russian collusion melodrama for whatever it’s worth — probably more than a ticket to Wonder Woman or the new Tom Cruise Mummy movie.