House of imaginary cards

2009 February 25
by Stace

I just finished watching President Obama’s address to Congress. I’m probably beating a dead horse here, but I can’t help but mention what a huge relief it is to watch a presidential address without incessant cringing and being embarrassed to be a citizen of the United States.

Even if there were nothing else to appreciate about President Obama, I would be satisfied with him simply for his dignity and obvious intelligence. At last, a president who knows the correct pronunciation of the word nuclear is NOT nook-yoo-lar. That alone is bliss.

Now, as to what was said, rather than how it was said, I can only say that I will wait and see. As I’ve written here before, I’m extremely disillusioned with politics and politicians, both Republican and Democrat. I am suspicious of the lot, and Obama’s and the Democrats’ election victories have not changed that. I’m still a liberal without a party.

Pres. Obama said some good things tonight. He emphasized investing in energy, healthcare and education. I can’t argue with that. But I’ve heard this a million times before from hundreds of other politicians. So, forgive me for taking his pledge with a grain of salt. Only time will tell.

Like I’m sure many others who watched this, I was most interested in what he had to say about the economy. What I heard was what I’ve already heard: that we must save bankers to save ourselves. Got it. But I don’t like it.

I’ve spent a bit of time trying to understand what has happened, why the big crash occurred, why my IRA is worth half of what it was worth one year ago. Some of it, I get. But there’s one thing that holds me back. It’s that one thing I’ve never really been able to get a handle on –

Money, and how it doesn’t really exist, but how important it is that everyone believe that it does.

I remember back during the presidency of the first Bush, how after the first time we invaded Iraq, the economy tanked and was instrumental in pushing Pres. Bush the First out of office, and ushering in Pres. Clinton. I watched the media create a recession. I remember my fascination as I listened to the evening news, as they proceeded to drive Pres. Bush out of the White House. All I could think was, what big dogs did Bush piss off? Must have been some mighty big ones, because they had him by the jugular. I still wonder what it was that he did to incur their wrath. Not that I cared what happened to him, since I thought he was evil, but I have always been curious nonetheless, and always figured it had something to do with what he did or did not do in Iraq. Anyway …

So I was in my 20s when it first struck me what a phantom the economy is.

Of course, now I know that it’s all an imaginary game — the economy, the stock market, and even money itself. I’m no expert. Hell, I’m not even an educated amateur. But I know a confidence game when I see it. That’s really all this is, isn’t it? Just on a grand scale? And we’re so heavily invested in it, we must believe or lose everything.

For quite some time now, I’ve been reading the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. These are three massive novels which revolve largely around banking and the creation of the pound sterling in the early 18th century. Stephenson makes clear the importance of faith in the system.

It’s all about belief. I’m not too good at believing in things I can’t see and touch.

It could be said that the gold standard gives legitimacy, a sort of reality, to money, but isn’t gold itself something of a random choice? Why not cowry shells or turquoise? Those two worked well for other cultures.

Gold, shells or turquoise, it’s all a state of mind, a random choice, meant to represent something else. And we don’t even bother with the gold, or any other, standard, anymore. What, exactly, does our money represent?

Money isn’t real. The economy is what we think it is. We believe in it, therefore it exists. Right? Am I getting this right? I’m not really asking that question, because I’m pretty sure I’ve got the right of it.

Now, here’s where it gets dicey for me. At what point does the belief system implode upon itself? When does the house of cards ultimately fall? Because it will fall. No doubt. Nothing, absolutely nothing, particularly not a human construct, can last forever. I can’t imagine it failing, not in our time.

We’re certainly in a mighty crisis of faith right now, though. Figures in the trillions of dollars are thrown about and the different sides argue about mortgaging our futures for the present. But isn’t it all really meaningless? And just because we believe in the existence of money, because we imbue it with power, does that mean that if we borrow a trillion imaginary bucks from, say, China and can’t make our payments, that we will simply let them come over and claim the collateral, meaning our land, our homes, our country? Nope. We would likely, in our faith in the system, relinquish our collateral in the form of political and economic favor, yes? And that has a reality the original debt never had.

Funny how on a large scale, it’s easy to see the unreality of money, but on the small scale, my own personal relationship with money, it’s reality seems obvious when it disappears from my IRA.

I’m rambling. This is what happens when I just don’t have a full grip on something. I can’t get my head around what will be the course of this system. When will it be so abused and so overbloated and create such a crisis of faith that it cannot recover its followers? Is it just up to us and our belief, to save it?

President Clinton, I hear, has criticized President Obama for not being more positive in his statements about the economy. Tonight, Obama threw in some words of hope and faith at the end of his speech. Interesting.

Larry King tonight mentioned a survey that found that 6 out of 10 Americans believe the economy is very bad, and yet 3 out of 4 of them said the bad economy hadn’t affected them personally. Also interesting.

Ah, well, I will wait and see what results come from the powers-that-be’s attempts to repair the assaulted system and reestablish our faith. If nothing else, it’s certainly interesting.

5 Responses
  1. 2009 February 26
    Belledog permalink

    Stace: really interesting blogpost. You are right about the “confidence game” (some would shorten that to con game, but that’s insufficient) and importance of perception vs. reality. This recession/maybe depression is so different, though, because the safeguards protecting our economy were whittled away, one by one, to provide short term results to a relatively few (importing cheaper than supporting a manufacturing base; allowing bad debts to become securities flooding our investment sector; housing and consumption propping up the economy).

    The house of cards is collapsing. No surprise but the speed and complexity being revealed.

    RE 3/4 of the survey respondents saying economic downturn had not affected them. Wonder how the question was phrased? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know a friend or family member in reduced circumstances or anxiety.

    It’s not just hearing the 24/7 cablesphere with crisis du jour.

    This is unlike any recession I’ve ever experienced. Maybe it’s like the Carter era gasoline lines, but even then, people knew they could afford to pay for the tankful. They were not worried about losing their jobs or house or sending their kids to college, on top of more transitory concerns. (Or were they?)

    Was so glad to find your blog. I had been thinking for years that many truckers/professional drivers probably had a lot to say — wondering if there were any great truckdriving novelists or chroniclers (a la John Steinbeck or John dos Passos) out there.

    To this non-trucker, it appears trucking can be a life of the mind: you are suspended in time and space, on a run that takes precedence over anything else in your life, awake and alert (please!) with lots of time to think and reflect and a changing passing scene to observe. And technology providing richer entertainment/information sources: the internet, Kindle, satellite radio. It can be as rich or as sparse as you prefer. Loneliness or solitude.

    Hope you are enjoying your home stay, and that you get another load as soon as you are ready to get back out there.

  2. 2009 February 26

    I watched. I loved.

    It was certainly refreshing and he squelched the doom and gloom he was ever so slightly putting out there the last week. It’s very refreshing to hear some honesty from a President. And I loved the part where he said that in the past the war wasn’t included in the budget (duh, btw) and said that from now on it will be. Implying a less than honest last term. lol.

  3. 2009 February 27
    Belledog permalink

    Maggie’s working cousins: meet beagle Ruby and basenji/terrier Pasha.

  4. 2009 February 27
    Belledog permalink

    The Wall Street Journal takes notice of increased interest in trucking jobs. Trucking companies reducing their recruiting advertising budgets; more selective.

  5. 2009 February 27

    I didn’t mean to imply that the current economic crisis is imaginary, or falsely created. I simply find it fascinating how something which is basically unreal, has such a profoundly real impact on our lives. And how, in some ways, we can control the unreality to affect a change on the plane of what is real. If that makes any sense. :-)

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