I heard a new phrase last night from John Hogue, a Nostradamus expert who appeared on Coast To Coast AM. Although I doubt Mr. Hogue’s media profile is high enough for something he coined to enter the public’s discriminating lexicon (for that one must be a Charlie Sheen at the least), it was nonetheless the most intriguing new term I had heard in some time (“Tiger’s Blood” notwithstanding): Cold Depression. And what he meant by it was this: Since the events of 2008 ushered in a “new normal” of diminished personal and collective expectations for our economic futures, we have also been aware that there was more pain in the offing, waiting to be triggered by the careless or intentional act or omission of some official or banker somewhere that would send the firetrap teetering on the edge of a cliff that is now the global economy hurtling in flames to the jagged rocks below. We have been holding, and we continue to hold our collective breath, just as we did when the Cold War had the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. glaring at each other and sweatily fingering their respective nuclear triggers.
We are like the Europeans of a hundred years ago, who knew that the web of alliances and ethnic rivalries in the Balkans all but guaranteed a fast-spreading and ruinous war but could not foresee precisely that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would be the actual trigger. Likewise in late 1939 and early 1940 when the European powers had declared war on one another but done nothing on the ground, the term “Phoney War” briefly defined what would later prove quite real and devastating.
Americans understand that Barack Obama came into office knowing that something needed to be done about jobs, and unlike what say a Bill Clinton would have done, he didn’t drop health care or even two-track his efforts, he simply ignored the jobs situation, without the slightest realization that the uncertainty created by his health care initiative would compound the problem by actually discouraging employers from hiring and retaining workers. We also understand that quite outside Mr. Obama’s control, the European experiment of monetary union sans fiscal union is poised to unravel in an economic catastrophe perhaps never before equaled on the face of the Earth. Everyone is aware that the one solution is for the European Central Bank to print a lot more Euros so that the unsustainable debt of the PIIGS nations can be repaid in diluted fiat, but everyone is also aware that Germany holds the power to veto the idea and has memories of Weimar hyperinflation that assure the veto’s staying power. China is secretly in bad shape, but because she keeps her secrets well, it will be Europe that collapses first. Once Europe goes south, the economies of the world will decouple from one another in earnest, and in the aftermath the demagogues turned dictators will probably bring back war too.
Meanwhile, back home it’s been easy to see that the work Americans have always done in a thriving economy is either absent or spurious or will not be sustainable in a global economic slump like we’ve never seen before. Housing is prostrate, with what little interest there is in new housing propped up by a moribund banking system that secretly holds foreclosed homes off the market as “shadow inventory” instead of clearing them and allowing actual price discovery.
Auto-making’s prominent domestic player, General Motors is shamelessly channel stuffing, claiming cars merely shipped to dealers as actually sold; while their finance arm goes back to the same sub-prime shenanigans that have proven so disastrous in the past, handing out low-cost loans to anyone with a job, almost regardless of credit score—and profits are down 41% to show for it.
Manufacturing of anything else but jetliners is all but dead, but air travel is one of the most discretionary of expenses, so the backlog of orders at Boeing won’t survive a global free-fall. Our agriculture is in the worst shape it’s been in decades, with dust-bowl conditions in most of the country. Oil prices are on their way back up. Medical costs remain out of control despite Obamacare. In terms of moving the economy forward, nothing they’re trying is working. We know it. They know it. And they know we know it.
The elites have been taking some effective steps through the government they control. They’ve readied portable booths they can use to create temporary highway checkpoints. They have purchased scads of ammunition and riot gear. They’ve deployed the TSA to bus stations, Amtrak terminals and even highways. They’re slipping more gun control into pending federal legislation. They’re getting ready to make sure that nobody can effectively oppose decisions that come down from Washington. When the Cold Depression turns hot, they want to keep the lid on the rest of us any way they can.
People whose parents or grandparents lived through the Great Depression need to bone up on the life skills that brought their families through the proverbial desert. They grew their own food and patched their own bald tires. Barter and cooperation replaced purchasing and competition. Low-cost entertainment and homemade clothes were the order of the day. The Cold War ended well. I don’t think we’ll be lucky twice.