It’s the Depression, Stupid!

In the market-totalitarian United States, where TV has long since severed the public’s neural paths from so many dimensions of vital reality, history repeats itself and, tragically and farcically, nobody even notices.

Take the onset of the hitherto credit-averted Great Depression we are now experiencing. The facts are stunningly simple: At just about the time the corporate capitalist overclass began taking back the small popular gains embodied in the New Deal and the anemic “War on Poverty” (it was more like a skirmish, if that), credit cards made the transition from upper-class convenience to a major way of making ends meet for the masses. Soon thereafter, huge sums of capital began to accumulate on Wall Street, looking for some profitable place to go next. What money didn’t chase itself in circles or become fourth homes and private jets went back into increasingly sketchy loans, very often and increasingly against what was quaintly called “home equity.”

Predictably, at the beginning of the “home equity” lending cycle, there was both a major flow of cash into previously squeezed middle-class hands, and a corresponding price boom in suburban housing. For a time, for many commoners, it felt like a bonanza that would never end.

But the basic fact was and is that loans have to be either repaid from earnings or repudiated, and, from the beginning, the whole credit expansion was a blatant substitute for expanding earning power in the middle and working classes. Why pay the rubes when you can loan them the money? And what better distraction from the fast-eroding ways to make wages and salaries than a new credit card in the mail, or, even better, a new “line of credit” secured by an assuredly wondrous future?

This game seems over now, rather obviously.

And what are we hearing from the overclass at this fork in the road? More massively amnesiac, self-serving magical thinking, of course: In fact, what we’re already in the process of getting as a purported “solution” to the economic crisis is neither more nor less than the practical implementation of the right wing’s pet theory of what causes Great Depressions.

Ever since their masters started disassembling the New Deal, the right-wing economists (whose ideology, with the indispensable help of the Democratic Party, has long since swallowed almost all the liberals) have contended that a mere failure to take decisive action to boost Wall Street in 1929 was what caused the GD of the entire 1930s. Now, they are getting their chance to put that immensely silly but now-dominant hypothesis into real action.

The other (real) explanation of the last Great Depression, of course, was that the 1920s stock bubble was a symptom not a cause of the disease, which was excessive wealth polarity. From the time of the first public deregulation of corporate mergers (the 1880s) to the Roaring Twenties, the investing class had taken all it could get while buying into its own claim that having more money at the top is always a good thing for society and the world. From 1929 to Hitler’s conquest of France, that delusion proved its accuracy in unusually clear ways.

Sound like a familiar pattern?

I predict the forthcoming “market rescue” will produce the same results as last time: Wall Street may be temporarily quasi-stabilized, but to no lasting effect. This will be because, despite overclass myopia, the disease is deeper and wider than Wall Street. It has to do with the normal workings of what Noam Chomsky calls the unmentionable five-letter word: c-l-a-s-s. When the rich player has taken all the chips, and when another round of IOUs no longer holds credibility, poker games must end. Likewise, when the overclass has flogged and hogged its way through its last viable lending scheme, its own self-seeking behavior confronts it (and all of us) at last.

All in all, I think the evidence strongly suggests that the 2010s will be a lot like the 1930s all over again, but with way bigger stakes and far less room for dawdling and error.

HGTV: A Running Documentary on (Sponsored) American Narcissism

As the kids say, OMFG!

Spent an hour in my apartment exercise room watching HGTV on the idiot box above the gym machines. It would be impossible to make a better documentary on the profound mental illness of the quasi-privileged sector of the American population at this ripe moment in our imperial history. Every second and every image — the appalling commercials very distinctly included — transmitted by HGTV is both an encouragement and a reflection of the stunning narcissism, vapidity, and ultra-petty acquisitiveness that pervades our greatly flattered and over-counted middle class. If you want to diagnose the cultural train wreck that un-checked corporate capitalism has made in its #1 citadel, this truly is must-see-TV.

This amazing TV channel is also powerful evidence of the inflexibility of our money-first social order. Thanks to Peak Oil and imperial decline, the logic of “home ownership” is now radically different than what middle-classers have been taught for the past 60+ years. Will paying a mortgage on a suburban casita ever again be a smart economic move? Perhaps, but this rote “dream” is now very far from being the no-brainer it’s been.

Nevertheless, just as the car corporations continue to advertise their rolling boondoggles as if it were 1987, so do the realtors, financiers, and house-equippers evidently lack any ability to deal with a future in which long-denied ecological limits are coming home to roost. HGTV trundling its way along the same old road confirms the Ceauşescuan bankruptcy of our played-out overclass. Their well is running very dry indeed…

Chutzpah & Delusion: Land Rover VEED

That’s a scan of the “Tread Lightly” ad I clipped from the local alt-weekly a while back.

Yes, folks, this is the kind of thing you can get away with in our glorious culture. Selling Land Rovers, with their 12/18 mpg rating and their $77,675 – $93,325 MSRP, under the idea that this monstrosity among monstrosities could have anything whatsoever to do with ecological concern.

The level of chutzpah, deception, and delusion involved among both the peddlers and the over-privileged purchasers of these things would make Orwell gag in surprise. The dealership — Land Rover Portland/Land Rover Oregon — says it cleans up after itself, so that somehow excuses the massive wastefulness and destructiveness of the product? Sure, yes, right.

The depravity of this is multiple. For now, though, I’ll simply repeat Robert L. Heilbroner’s words:

How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?

VEED #2: Bottled “Vitamin Water” For Dogs/Puddles for People

Advertising Age‘s February 25 issue reports that the Cott Corporation, “the world’s largest retailer brand soft drink provider,” has just begun marketing Fortifido, a bottled “vitamin water” for dogs!

One could comment on how the whole “vitamin water” marketing scam preys on people’s old-fashioned ignorance about vitamins and human (and now canine) health. One could also comment on the ecological disaster of ever-expanding plastic bottle production, as well as on its deep connections to the human race’s oncoming hydrocarbon supply crisis.

But the largest point is simply more Visual Evidence of Extreme Depravity.

Obviously, the idea of bottling water for dogs is not nearly enough to disturb the corporate capitalist conscience. Indeed, you can tell just how sensitive to human needs the renowned entrepreneurial soul really is by taking a gander at another photo from the self-same February 25 issue of Advertising Age:

What product is that woman using? Why, it’s the LifeStraw, of course! This winner of AdAge’s “Work of the Week” honor is:

the Vestergaard Frandsen Group’s mobile personal filtration system, otherwise known as LifeStraw. It is a powder-blue plastic tube—much thicker than an ordinary straw—containing filters that make water teeming with typhoid-, cholera- and diarrhea-causing microorganisms drinkable.

In other words, it is a specially filtered straw manufactured and sold at a profit by a Danish “humanitarian entreneurialism” corporation. It allows residents of the drought-plagued Third World, where daily household incomes are usually less than the price of a single bottle of “Fortifido,” to minimize the risk of drinking warm, fetid water from puddles.

If only Dr. Pangloss were here to witness this proof that capitalism really has put the best of all possible worlds beneath our very feet!

Drink it up, you lucky, lucky people!