Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Musings from Tryon Street in Charlotte.

Are we approaching the silly season or the season of pretending?

If you look closely you can see a bit of color appearing in the leaves of the Oaks and Maples. The Canadian geese around the lake at Freedom Park seem to have taken on a bit of restlessness. If you listen carefully on these still warm nights that’s not just sushi fatigue you can almost hear spreading among the bankers of Dilworth and Meyers Park. The fall approaches with an ever-quickening step, its very name portending a decline of sorts. The government’s continued publishing of numbers even they don’t believe any more doesn’t hold back the looming reality that is beginning to penetrate through the fog of specious economic prognostications. Even as the day traders, huddled before their flat screens, nervously pray to the gods of CNBC that it’s all just a bad dream; still those visions of shrinking index numbers and negative equity just won’t go away. A seaming weariness grows and an almost imperceptible groan is heard all along Tryon Street. Pedestrians along the Overstreet Mall take furtive glances at each other, each with that unanswered question in their eye; what was that the sound we just heard, perhaps the economy taking that final sigh before slipping into a coma?

So why shouldn’t it? After all we’ve had peak credit and peak oil and all the other peaks visible to the denizens of the lower floors. Now the season of peak pretending has come and gone in an instant. All our pretending bought us reprieve from the havoc of mismanagement and fraud didn’t it? We all knew that the true conditions would reveal themselves eventually, but please God just not today. Now their specter is on the rise, worse than any of our Grandparents nightmares from the ‘30’s. As someone once said, “When nothing is believable, what’s the point in pretending any more?”

When a new reality sets in, it’s time to do some reassessment. We’re looking at some “bad ju-ju” here. Too many years of getting something for nothing, knowing full well that it always ends in tragedy, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. All those things we have refused to restructure and resize to conform to the reality we denied existed are about to be done for us by the immutable laws of history and economics. What was once a nation of hardworking self-reliant and for the most part moral citizens has become inhabited by far too many over-entitled, self-indulgent and yes at times barbaric morons ruled by thieves and con artists calling themselves financers and politicians. What was once solely the realm of economics is about to become political, and dangerously so.

While we bemoan our losses in our 401ks, our home equity and manufacturing jobs, there is a greater loss many as yet fail to recognize. The loss of the rule of law, without which we enter the wasteland of nothing matters and anything goes wherein consequently, everything goes. That we had the rule of law is what has kept China and Japan and others buying our debt for all these years. Their continued buying was predicated in the belief that in the U.S. would enforce those contracts because that was the law. It wasn’t arbitrary and after all in spite of our flaws it made thing work better. As the rule of law disintegrates we kid ourselves to we think the rest of the world doesn’t notice. They are beginning to stop believing in our money, indeed in our future. As that confidence is lost they will sell all those billions in Treasuries for whatever they can get, and our economy will get flushed away like a quick summer flash flood down Little Sugar Creek.

Like the line from Cool Hand Luke “What we have here is a failure to communicate” - honestly, by all of our political leaders, both left and right. The separation between what politicians say and what people are actually experiencing has widened to an unbridgeable chasm. Example, Obama comes out in praise of the new Chevy Volt as the savior of the auto industry, except at $41,000 no one but the costal elites can afford it and even they won’t buy it. Why would they, that new BMW or Lexus is much flashier anyway. Example, Senator McConnell doesn’t want corporations to have to publicly disclose just which political ads they are paying for, claiming it will lead to job losses. Really? Or is he just running cover for their dubious justifications for shipping even more jobs overseas?

It isn’t just government that has failed us. It’s the news media, businesses, the education system, even the courts. All have become the political instrument of one faction or another, and hence all have become suspect. And why shouldn’t they? Just look at the new so-called banking regulation bill. Two thousand pages? That isn’t the rule of law, that’s just deliberately adding more chaos to an already overly complex chaotic system. Why, so they can tell us they did something? Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to just admit that a mistake was made in repealing the Glass-Steagall act and reinstate it? But why reinstate an effective law that was less than forty pages when they can birth a monstrosity of two thousand pages that no one has read never mind understands except maybe the bureaucrats that will use it as a shield for the fat cats and a bludgeon against honest businesses and citizens.

The fall of election years used to be characterized as the silly season, now I think it’s going to just be crazy and irrational. Many will forget how it’s our institutions that have deliberately misled us; their confusions will devolve into a vicious certitude devoid of any semblance of reality. Demands for trials for our perceived enemies in the kangaroo court of public opinion will become just what they are, another mockery of the rule of law. Will the chaos in political arena and the chaos in the markets become reflections of each other? We all need to pray that things don’t unravel, because if they do it could well become a cascade. Like the old analogy; when you have a fire in the Circus tent, don’t expect too much from the clowns’ bucket brigade. Up to now all our elected clowns have done is throw more kindling and kerosene onto the funeral pyre.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this sense, but a lot more of us need to start paying attention to that prickly feeling as the hairs on the back of our neck start to stand up with each new absurdity. Oh what the heck maybe I just need to take a vacation, the politicians have everything covered right? And what they don’t the gods of CNBC do, right? Right?

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