America Is One Big Clunker and No Amount of Cash Will Buy Us a New One
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In The Long Emergency (2005, Atlantic Monthly Press), I said that we ought to expect the federal government to become increasingly impotent and ineffectual -- that this would be a hallmark of the times. In fact, I said that any enterprise organized at the colossal scale would function poorly in years ahead, whether it was a government, a state university, a national chain retail company, or a giant midwestern farm. It is characteristic of the compressive contraction our society faces that giant hypercomplex systems will wobble and fail. We should expect this.
It's tragic that the avatar of hopefulness himself, Barack Obama, stepped into his role at exactly the moment when this set of conditions was getting traction. It is sure to get worse, and there are going to be a lot of disappointed people out there who will be suffering terrible losses and real pain in daily life. Societies don't do well when the public falls into the broad despair that is the opposite of hope. That's when the long knives and the tribal animosities come out and things get smashed.
Within the context of conventional party politics -- the kind that has been baseline "normal" in the USA for a long time -- we see this playing out in two factions that are increasingly out-of-touch with reality. The Obama government has made itself hostage to a toxic form of pretense and lying. In order to sustain the wish for "hope" -- if not hope itself -- the President and his White House advisors along with his cabinet appointments, are pretending that the historical forces of compressive contraction are not underway. They're flat-out lying about the employment figures issued in the government's name. They're willfully ignoring the comprehensive bankruptcy gripping government at all levels. They refuse to bring the law to bear against "the malefactors of great wealth." They appear to not understand the epochal energy scarcity problem the whole world faces, or its implications for industrial economies. Most of all, they persist in promoting the lie that this economy can return to the prior state of reckless debt accumulation (a.k.a "consumerism") that has made us so ridiculous and unhealthy.
The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days, Americans don't like reality very much because it won't let them push it around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human beings in the face of it is: what will you do? In other words, it's not really possible to manage reality, but you can certainly choose to manage your affairs within reality. We won't do that because it's too difficult. This harsh situation leaves the public increasingly with little more than bad feelings of discouragement and persecution. It's astonishing that all the smart people around the president don't get this.
Reality unfolds emergently, and this ought to interest us. For instance, I have maintained for many years that we are approaching the twilight of the automobile age -- and the implications of this for daily life in the USA are pretty large. For a long time, I had assumed that this change of circumstances would proceed from our problems with the oil supply. But reality is sly. It has thrown two new plot twists into the story lately. America's romance with cars may not founder just on the fuel supply question. It now appears that our problems with capital are so severe that far fewer people will be able to borrow money from banks to buy cars at the rate, and in the way, that the system has been organized to depend on. Our problems with capital are also depriving us of the ability to pay to fix the hypercomplex system of county roads, interstate highways, and even city streets that make motoring possible. What will we do?