November 12, 2009

The origins of Selbst Schadenfreude

((Click on table to enlarge in new screen.)

In the ongoing effort to enrich the Blogospherical vocabulary, I offer Selbst Schadenfreude, which I will translate as meaning "the malicious pleasure taken in one's own difficulties or downfall." I think there are whole websites devoted to this pastime, and I read some of them:, Kunstler's Clusterfucknation, The Market Ticker, and many others. In the modern United States, there is a lot to work with, which probably explains the tendency in the first place, along with a sense of unconscious guilt arising from the simultaneous perception of (a) such a bounteous birthright of beauty, fertility, temperate climate, resources and historical timing and (b) such a piss-poor utilization of it all in recent times. Thus, the marked tendency toward self-laceration, doomsday prophesying, and the rest. Selbstschadenfreude.

The chart above is from the helpful public data made freely available by the Department of the Treasury. It is the national "P&L," in a way. If the United States were strictly a business, one would have to say that this is the financial picture of a company which has gone belly up. This is the most recent P&L, for October. Granted, I would not expect tax receipts to be their highest in October, although this is the designated extension month used by many taxpayers. Nevertheless, if one looks at the year-over-year decline from October 2008 to the present, perhaps a cold chill will also crawl up your spine. Last year $30 billion more in tax receipts arrived in October. This suggests two things: (a) we're in a steep nosedive financially, and (b) how the hell do you match up a fall-off of about 18% in tax revenue with the official unemployment rates? In October 2008 the rate was 6.5%; now it's 10.3%. How can these two data points be reconciled unless someone is seriously fudging the unemployment numbers? Is it possible that another Selbstschadenfreudemeister (Germans love those portmanteau words), John Williams at Shadow Government Statistics, is right that the true unemployment figure is about 21%?

The other really eerie thing about this chart is the expense side: $311 billion, including $70 billion for defense. Well, some things never change. So we've got $135 billion coming in, $311 billion going out. Does anyone see anything at all wrong with this picture? In what possible universe is this sustainable? Against this backdrop of utter insolvency, the generals are arguing that Obama should send more troops to Afghanistan and Paul Krugman of the New York Times is urging another round of stimulus, only really big this time. This is getting seriously nuts.

I would like to think that our sane, rational, deliberate President is looking at this chart the same way I am. I suspect he is. I think he is weighing the political demands from the rabid Right Wing militarists against the economic reality. I think he did the same thing with the national health care issue. I don't think he thought we could afford it. I don't think he believes we can afford an escalation in Afghanistan, or even to be there at all. Or to maintain those 750 overseas bases that the great, brilliant Chalmers Johnson has been trying to warn us about in his Nemesis trilogy. No one would listen to guys like Chalmers Johnson or Kevin Phillips, although they did their fricking homework, like crazy. They went very, very deep. They weren't guessing.

And now here it is. We're attempting to turn the national finances into an immense Ponzi scheme, where a little bit of income is used to leverage massive borrowing, where the ability to repay the principal is fading into a ridiculous fantasy, so that all we can hope to do is to keep borrowing, make interest payments on the national debt, until....until what? There's the problem. Until we emerge from this Depression and revenue begins flooding into the Treasury again? We have no idea when that will happen. The reason the stimulus was able only to mitigate the deplorable state of local budgets (to keep teachers and cops on the job) is because we waited way too long to begin investing in this country. Bush spent all that dough on Iraq and Afghanistan and on a pointless build-up of an already hypertrophied military establishment. Because a bunch of Saudis hijacked planes and flew them into buildings. So now we're in that very dangerous situation where time is not on our side. The economy has to turn around, fast, or....what? We publish this data, after all, and President Obama is in China now, and the Chinese are looking at the same figures he is.

Anyway, I'm very glad it's President Obama at the helm right now. If it were Bush, I'd still be taking night classes in French at the local junior college.


  1. hammerud5:13 PM

    I think the only out at this point that the government will see is to print more money, which eventually means hyper inflation. I guess I just don't get it. With all the PhD economists etc, one would think that someone would be able to figure out something that would avoid these calamities. It blows my mind. We don't seem to be able to figure out much of anything; and now, somehow, I am supposed to believe our government is capable of running health care.

  2. Anonymous4:37 AM

    hi gdp almighty creator or powerless proprietor secular god T$70, what is your take on it. I am sking ONU to recognise me as first official legal god with my GDP T$ 70. Can you put it in context. Thanks bye. Zikalkis.