Looks like The New York Times will have to recalibrate its president-o-meter. For five months they’ve been styling Joe Biden as the reincarnation of FDR, but he’s looking more and more like the second coming of Millard Fillmore — who came to leadership of the dominant Whig Party at exactly the moment it flew up the wazoo of history and vanished, ushering in a civil war.
FDR, you remember, was faced with a momentous systems failure, a crisis we came to call the Great Depression. I’m not sure we actually learned the lesson of that, despite thousands of books and PhD dissertations on the subject. The lesson: financial systems tend to expand and complexify at a more rapid rate than the larger economic systems of which they are a component. Their abstract operations seek to hide risk in hyper-complexity until hazard comes a’callin’ and then you discover that the actual money is not there.
The difference then (1929 – 1941) was that the greater US economy was fully outfitted for industrial production when its finance sector blew up. There was something solid underneath all that financial abstraction. We were all set up to manufacture products of value, many of them based on inventions developed here: cars, movies, airplanes, radios, you-name-it, new and exciting things that people wanted to buy. Our factories were all pretty much up-to-date and state-of-the-art then, too. Our oil supply, including the industry that pumped it out of the ground and moved it from points A to B, was the envy of the world. We had raw materials up the ying-yang. The whole kit was humming magnificently when Wall Street blew up, and next thing you know unemployment goes to twenty-five percent and nobody has any money and the luckless are building cardboard shanties in Central Park.
Of course, that was then and this is now. If you’re saying “boo-hoo,” I think you get the picture. That whole kit of industrial production is long gone, and we’re left in an economic slum of Chinese product “welfare” (stuff for treasury bonds) juiced on computer-driven hyper-complexity, decorated with junk enterprise like social media, streaming pornography, crypto-currency mining, and chicken nuggets — with a lot of deceptive and useless motion in the form of mass motoring to provide the illusion that this country is actually going somewhere… all with a poison Chinese Covid-19 cherry-on-top. This is the outfit that Joe Biden is ostensibly the president of.
Now along comes the curious case of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown. It’s especially interesting because the pipeline itself, while big (5,500 miles long, from refineries in Texas clear up to gas stations in New York), is itself not that complicated. It’s a tube that a few volatile liquids move through: gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel oil. It has a bunch of valves to regulate the flows of these liquids. Plus, some storage tank-farms. The valves are computerized. That seems to be the problem. There was no physical damage to the pipeline and its components. The software that runs it got hacked, reportedly a “ransom-ware” sting, where unknown actors get control of the software and won’t relinquish it unless a whole lot of cash gets forked over by some non-traceable electronic means of transfer. I imagine it’s this last point that Colonial and its hackers are haggling over now, which explains the failure to restart the otherwise undamaged pipeline. I also imagine, meanwhile, all kinds of private and government computer savants are trying like hell to hack the hack behind the scenes.
The Colonial Pipeline is easy-peasy compared to the financial system and the electric grid. If the first one gets hacked, the nation’s nominal wealth might disappear (yours included), and, anyway, the financial system itself is not just enormous and hyper-complex, but much of its complexity conceals the massive misrepresentation of vaporous entities for “money” and any stoppage of the flows of that “money,” and things purporting to derive from it, will reveal the black hole at the center of all that activity. Hear that giant sucking sound? That was your livelihood, your pension, and your legacy rushing by en route to zero.
The electric grid is sometimes referred to as “the biggest machine in the world.” Unlike the financial system, it’s not largely stoked on hyper-complex dishonesty, it’s just really old, and jerry-rigged, and held together with duct-tape and baling wire. Probably a few kids in a basement somewhere — not even enemies of the republic, necessarily — could initiate a software attack that causes a whole lot of damage to transformers and other vital components and starts a process that wrecks the whole darn thing. Taking down the grid would be, effectively, the end of civilization, at least for a while, maybe a long while, maybe for good.
The various voting systems that states such as Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan employ are child’s play compared to those monsters. And the funny part is: there was no good reason to over-complexify them except to queer elections. Dominion machines and Smartmatic software were hardly needed to tally votes and only invited opportunity to cheat. Paper ballots, pen-and-ink voter registration ledgers (like the ones still used in New York state precincts), and some dedicated board-of-election workers will get’er done in a straightforward manner that can be regulated easily. But, no-o-o-o, we had to heap unnecessary complexity on that, too, and look where it’s left us. We may find out soon.
So, the Colonial Pipeline breakdown should send a kind of grim message. The creatures who run the Federal Reserve, the banks, and the markets are standing by along with the poor souls who run the electric grid, chewing their fingernails down to the nubbins. It’s too late to simplify any of it. We’ve just got to roll with it, until it stops rolling.
This blog is sponsored this week by Vaulted, an online mobile web app for investing in allocated and deliverable physical gold. To learn more visit: Kunstler.com/vaulted
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