Enjoy the Summer

The image is the house of cards, by Jean Baptiste Chardin. It betrays my ignorance, but I was entranced by the picture when I saw it, I think in the national gallery, months ago, and confused Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin with the businessman of the same shorter name. I think that the confusion arose because I mixed galleries, having seen the Isfahan/Persian exhibition at the British Museum earlier this year. They both lived at a time when most people were shafted by life, too. Here's some filler from the great Robert Hughes about the former. Google for the paintings, as usual.

Everywhere I turn these days there seems to be the sound of pennies dropping, shoes falling, and understanding breaking out of just how serious the crisis the world faces is.

Gloomy predictions of decline are a common western trope, possibly because we tend to use the idea that we are not the people we were in order to behave badly or to socialise the consequences of our moral choices. I've been reading Richard Overy's The Morbid Age, lately, about the interwar period, and have been very struck by how old some of our newer complaints might seem. But don't mistake my muttering for paranoia or pessimism. Opportunity and crisis may be bound up together, but you have to be aware of what is coming to be hopeful about where we may be pushed to go. The crisis is real, and we have only tasted the first of it.

Here's where the dangers are now; for how we got here, see my sundry posts from the past three years. They fall under five heads, and they will soon unite.

Firstly, credit defaults can be tolerated for a matter of months. The financial instruments that we have devised, and the way in which banking crisis was postponed last year, allowed for a tolerance of defaults and overdue payments as working hours were cut and utilities expanded their direct debit payments. This margin is now rapidly disappearing, and fairly soon, the same vast sea of individual credit defaults that has flooded America will be here.

Secondly, California, at the head of other American States, is about to crash into insolvency, fiscal revolt, and serious social disruption as it attempts to carry through its deflationary budget.

I can't help admiring Arnold Schwarzenegger for at least trying; but he's been stitched up by lobbyists and the legislature. If California defaults on its bonds, or if it exhausts the borrowing capacity of counties, cities, and schools, and undermines the insurers who allow the medical and transport system to function, the wider US market will be pulled down.

If the wider US market goes down, so does the federal government's economic policy and so, possibly, does the Obama administration.

Thirdly, in Britain, businesses simply cannot carry on magnificently ignoring reality, in the face of rising rents, a VAT rise at the end of the year, and deflation. The trigger could well be the next installment of quarterly payments for business rent, which could see a wave of bankruptcies triggered, or rather, the moment before the installment date when people realise they can't pay.

In Europe, Germany is unable to lend to the rest of the system and itself; banks are giving every indication of withholding funds; and the euro is functioning as a sort of straitjacket which might encourage a disastrous reaction towards engineered currency depreciation and protectionism.

Fourthly, the public (but not the mad left) are starting to realise that global warming is not happening, and that governments and ideologues have embraced it, knowingly or not as a manure-bearing plough for a tax farm.

What only a few seem to get is that deflating food production and removing sources of energy like coal and nuclear power because of the environmental movement at a time when oil at viable prices is declining and when China and India are hungry for supply is lunacy. Have a look at this site, focussed on energy shortages, and at its updated graphic. The shadows are spreading.

Finally, people are starting to turn against endless war for peace, but the consequence may well be that very dark regimes in the Muslim world are strengthened when an intelligent realism may have corrupted or undermined them. The muppet, Milliband, is even beginning to talk of a deal with the 'moderate Taleban'. Where is your war to end evil now?

All of this as the Koreas are neutralised and Asian markets begin to break away from the west. If any reader knows of a Baltic-style index for Asian shipping that also traces where it goes (because I suspect it is increasingly not to the west), please let me know.

Just look at that list and tell me that you'll be glad, when September comes. Septembers seem always associated with crisis; the combination of currents heading the way of all of us this time is fearsome, But chaos is an aoutienne; it mostly takes the summers off.

I take little pleasure in noting that the preoccupations of those who claim leadership are privatisation, euthanasia, impossibly complex healthcare schemes, and the miseducation of the young. Nor do I look on the worried or strained faces of most of those whom I see out and about with equanimity.

How many people are in functional unemployment as their working hours have been cut? How many are turning telephones off to ignore collection centres, and scrimping on bills, or extracting money from banks now before their accounts are frozen? How many displace their worries onto immigrants who are suffering as they are, though less than those whose lives are treated casually elsewhere in the places where they came from? How many tent cities and debtors prisons are we waiting for?

Policies, determination, understanding, social science insights, the rationalisations of the urbanised mind--I understand all of these. But yet again, I feel like Dante watching Virgil in hell, leading him to the highest point below heaven full of learning and humanism and insight, and unable to go further, because he lacks the faith to see the world above. People just won't see what they lack, and who took it from them.

As an aside, I was surprised to find just how, well, gay, William-Adolphe Bouguereau found the same story. We all have our different perspectives, I suppose. Bouguereau's images of women were always striking--I like his birth of Venus--but I guess he was possessed of a fairly healthy mid-Victorian sensuality. There's a part of me that thinks this sort of thing belongs on Vatican walls and not where excitable people can see it, but that's neither here nor there.

In the past, when people used to warm and expanding worlds have been faced with crisis, they have turned to faith with disastrous consequences. The fifth, sixth and thirteenth century, and the early modern period, and for that matter the early twentieth century, were years when men went mad. Religion, as opposed to faith, became the refuge and facade of lunatic cultural forces which are predictable and ineluctable when things go wrong.

Things are going wrong now. Wait till September comes, if you want; it is my selfish intention to attempt to make it through August before contracts and occupations which I arranged for myself kick in, and to look after my friends and those I love as much as I am able. I am learning Korean, brushing up my employment and social security law, and saying prayers. We all need our escape routes in the long, middle and short run, after all....


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