The global situation appears to be evolving along expected lines. No positive black swans have swooped in to save us from ourselves and whisk us out of our predicament. They may yet arrive, but absent them, I can see no good options. There are only least bad ones.
But we have long lived in the least bad options. As Churchill said “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others”. This can be paraphrased as “capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others we have tried. So a least bad option for the future is not necessarily an unmitigated evil.
Nassim Taleb portrays the future well. It is a distribution of possible outcomes. Only some of which we know. But any future has a range of like futures around it. For some time it has been apparent that a set of trends in the Western world not only could not continue forever, but were reaching their turning point.
Predicting the future is not possible. For stretches of time we may get some main features reasonably right. Before the GFC it was obvious that economically the world was out of balance. That at some point it would back into a new set of consumption and production patterns and relationships. Any such change involves destruction of capital, both of the hard and soft varieties.
Developed countries have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the re-balancing. No doubt in part because the re balancing will involve major changes to their economies. Changes which will include bringing their consumption more in line with their level of production. No country can perpetually consume more than it produces. Eventually whoever is paying for their consumption will get tired of doing so. Printing currency just delays the realization of the issue. As with most problems in life, the sooner they are faced and dealt with the better.
For the last few years I have hoped I was wrong. That those more influenced by Keynes were right. That I was wrong that they were turning a nasty recession into a depression. That they were turning a depression into the greatest depression. But alas the trillions transplanted to the Bankers have not kick started the economy. They have in fact thrown the validity of the system into question in the minds of the people.
They have also made it hard for those of us who appreciate what capitalist incentives have done to defend them. Crony capitalism or the capture of the US government by financial sector vested interests is indefensible. The status quo will not stand. The question is how is it changed and in which direction will it go.
There are multiple precedents that socio and political crisis can follow economic ones. When the central authority of the state crumbles due to its manifest injustices and incompetence, very unpleasant things can happen.
While there may have been nothing inevitable about the exact nature of the 1930’s following the 1920’s some aspects were inevitable. Deflating a credit bubble of that magnitude can not be pleasant. Similarly the exact nature of the 1940’s were not inevitable given the 1930’s. But some aspects probably were.
What is inevitable for us given what we have done? Will our populous meekly accept declining living standards and the need to produce more? Will revolutions overturn existing institutions? Will some of our leaders seek to blame others for their failings. Either persecuting segments of their own population and/or waging war on others?
Given the number of countries going through major restructures it is inevitable that some will take a dark and despotic path. As Jefferson said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”.
There is a pattern to history. It may not repeat, but it does rhyme. We are the same creatures through time. We create the similar problems and seek the similar solutions. If we do not learn from history we are indeed doomed to repeat it.
This will not be the first time societies question what form money takes and the role of the banks. It will not be the first time societies have gone from easy money and conspicuous consumption to watching every penny. As Polonius said in Hamlet:
Neither a borrower, nor a lender be : For loan oft loses both itself and friend ; And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.1 This above all, — To thine ownself be true ; And it must follow, as the night the day/ Thou canst not then be false to any man. Shakespeare around 1600
Western societies have thrown husbandry out the window in an orgy of debt financed consumption. Our state education system being too busy indoctrinating children to educate them. Leaving society as a whole to learn the lessons of history – one mistake at a time.