You had to love the narrative that the financial media put over about the 1000-plus point zoom in the DJIA on Wednesday: that pension funds were “rebalancing” their portfolios. It dredged up the image of a drowning man at the bottom of the deep blue sea with an anchor in one hand and an anvil in the other, switching hands.
Thursday’s last minute 900-point turnaround was another marvelous stunt to behold. Somebody gave the drowned man a pair of swim fins to kick himself furiously to the surface for a gulp of air. The truth, of course, is that pension funds are sunk, however you balance their investment loads while they’re underwater. They over-bought stocks out of sheer desperation during ten years of near-ZIRP bond yields, and started rotating back into bonds as they crept above the ZIRP handle, and now with bond yields retreating, they’re loading up again on still-overpriced stocks that pretend to be “bargains.” Everybody knows that this will not end well for pension funds. Glug Glug.
The financial press and their red-headed step-siblings in the regular news media seem to think that getting rid of Mr. Trump will power the perpetual bull market into an Elon Musk nirvana of Martian vacations, hyperloops, and another chapter of US world domination — with Wonder Woman running the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spearheading an army of eunuchs. The New York Times made yet another pitch for impeachment today (Friday) in an editorial by the revered swamp fossil Elizabeth Drew, 83, who laid out everything but a credible case against the Golden Golem of Greatness. The newspaper makes itself more ridiculous each day in its furious gyno-narcissistic hysteria.
What The Times and its media compadres fail to notice is that the nation has entered an irreversible transition out of our familiar techno-industrial arrangements into the uncharted territory of deferred fantasies and real hard times. Financialization of the economy was the last ploy to keep this boat floating. It allowed political and business leaders to pretend that asset-stripping the interior of the country — so that coastal moralizers could enjoy micro-green lunches and sex-change surgery — would promote the general welfare. The banking traumas of 2008 should have put an end to that gambit, but the players rotating between the DC Swamp and Wall Street only tripled down on that action — basically borrowing more and more from the future in the form of bonded debt that cannot possibly be repaid.
The true rebalancing of pension funds, and everything else in American life, will come with the recognition that we are tapped out and bumping up against actual limits. Alas, economies don’t de-grow, at least not in an orderly way. They reach a certain complete efflorescence and then they wilt, or collapse. Survival becomes a matter of how human beings adapt to new conditions. Attempts at mitigation — propping up the status quo — add up to a mug’s game, whether it’s stock markets, agri-biz, political parties, weather systems, or influence over people in distant lands.
The argument will come down to the Mitigationists versus the Adapters. The problem for the Mitigators is that most of what they can do is based on pretending: e.g. that some energy miracle is at hand… that we’ll soon be mining asteroids… that we’ll build dikes around Miami Beach… that Modern Monetary Theory (the “science” of getting something for nothing) can negate the physical laws of the universe. The Mitigationists will be disappointed as they “consume” their last images of iPhone porn, waiting for Elon Musk to save the world.
The Adapters will be out there working with the changes that reality serves up, probably with hand tools. There may be a lot fewer of them, living in a more austere everyday economy, but they will remain onstage when the Mitigationists depart this earth in tears for a mysterious realm that turns out not to be a golf course subdivision on Mars with a Tesla in every driveway. Something’s coming and the wild algo instability in the markets is yet another sign that anybody can read. Even if it quiets down for a few weeks in early 2019, as I think it may, the fireworks are only beginning. Which side are you on?