September 12, 2012

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party

Dad taught me that.  It uses the most commonly-deployed QWERTY letters on the typewriter except for Q, V, X & Z, and who needs them, most of the time? I guess it could have read, "all very good men," and fixed part of it.  Or  "all quixotic, zany, very good men," but then typing students would not memorize it.  "Now is the time for all quixotic, zany, very good men to come to the aid of their party." I feel I'm on the edge of immortality here.  Not quite solving Fermat's Last Theorem, but a breakthrough nonetheless.

While sitting in Caffe Rulli on Magnolia Avenue, staring at the surface of a cappuccino and wondering, how does the barista form that leaf pattern with milk foam?, I asked the comely ginge who was my companion (excuse the Britishisms, but I'm reading a novel by Martin Amis), "Are the powers that be really doing us any favors by holding off the sea changes that will inevitably arrive for America and the other Western nations over the next decade?"

This is our concern, Dude, as Brandt said to Lebowski.  Is this really a good idea?  All of the deficit financing, the money printing, the reassurances, the promises of economic "growth," the political class's insistence that the American Way of Life, just the way it was, can be restored once we get past the lingering effects of the "financial crisis" ?  Or would it not be better to look at the vast array of forces militating against such a rosy scenario and let nature take its course, thus unleashing the (admittedly chaotic) creativity which will be necessary in order to adapt to these changed circumstances? 

Consider this from a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of the city pension crisis down there, which will bring the City of Angels ("I never found it to be such myself," said the Stranger in the previously cited movie) to the verge of insolvency, or beyond, in the next three or four years. 

"David Zahniser of The Los Angeles Times also contributed to the ground swell by highlighting that the City’s contribution to the $4.8 billion underfunded Fire and Police Pension Plans (“FPP”) is projected to escalate by 56% over the next four years, from $506 million to almost $800 million.

But that is just part of the story as total pension contributions to both LACERS and FPP over the same four year period will increase by over 50%, from $850 million to almost $1.3 billion, representing almost 26% of General Fund revenue.

And if you toss in benefits, pension and benefit expense will total almost $2 billion, representing 40% of General Fund revenue."

Obviously, once you get to the point where a city is using 40% of its general tax revenue to pay for retirement of employees, you are in a Game Over scenario; to wit, L.A. will go Full San Bernadino, which I guess is the City of Saint Bernard, and perhaps I did find it to be such.

I don't think, really, that these city employee benefits are excessive, if judged from the perspective of anticipated growth in the U.S. economy circa 1998 or so; but that's sort of the point.   That was also a Bubble Period, as the housing bubble was a Big Bubble, and we're not forever blowing bubbles anymore.  The difference between Los Angeles and the federal government is that the feds can play all sorts of money-printing games, and borrow 40% of its budget against the future (notice the eerie correlation between the Treasury's need to borrow and the amount that Los Angeles needs from its current budget to keep up with pensions).  This "40%" shows up everywhere you look.  It is a measure of how far beneath our "postulated" standard of living our real means have fallen.  It is a guide to how far housing prices have fallen in much of the country, for example.

The big entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security, face the awful demographics of the aging American population.  We've crossed that Rubicon where the recipients of Social Security, for example are more than half the number of those working and paying in.  That is to say, there are not even two American workers for every Social Security beneficiary, and this situation will obviously get worse as the vast throng of Baby Boomers move into their sunset years, and depend on bartenders, waiters and baristas to support them.

Throw in Peak Oil, overpopulation of the Earth, global warming which makes increased fossil fuel use a suicide pact, and the falling percentage of Americans in the actual workforce (and those working increasingly toiling away at low-paying service jobs (like waiters, bartenders and baristas), which replaced the high-paying jobs lost over the lasgt 30 years), and you're left with the question: how is this all supposed to work?

And thus my ruminative question to the comely ginge.  If society had a Collective Brain, which worked, it would face the facts and move to a new paradigm.  I suspect, however, that Nietzsche had it about right: 

Madness is rare in individuals but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.