UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 9, 2009

THE FOG OF NUMBERS

James Howard Kunstler - One of main reasons behind the vast confusion now reigning in the USA, our failure to construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us (or what to do about it), is our foolish obsession with econometrics -- viewing the world solely through the "lens" of mathematical models. We think that just because we can measure things in numbers, we can make sense of them.

For decades we measured the health of our economy (and therefore of our society) by the number of "housing starts" recorded month-to-month. For decades, this translated into the number of suburban tract houses being built in the asteroid belts of our towns and cities. When housing starts were up, the simple-minded declared that things were good; when down, bad.
What this view failed to consider was that all these suburban houses added up to a living arrangement with no future. . .

It's especially ironic that given our preoccupation with numbers, we have arrived at the point where numbers just can't be comprehended anymore. This week, outstanding world derivatives were declared to have reached the 1 quadrillion mark. Commentators lately -- e.g. NPR's "Planet Money" broadcast -- have struggled to explain to listeners exactly what a trillion is in images such as the number of dollar bills stacked up to the planet Venus or the number of seconds that add up to three ice ages plus two warmings. . . We have flown up our own collective numeric bung-hole.

America will never be able to cover its current outstanding debt. We're effectively finished at all three levels: household, corporate, and government. Who, for instance, can really comprehend what to do about the number problems infesting Fannie Mae and the mortgages associated with her? There's really only one way out of this predicament: to get ready for a much lower standard of living and much different daily living arrangements.

2 Comments:

Anonymous L said...

Kunstler's such a pessimist. All we have to do is defeat our creditors in a war and we'll be free of debt. Thank Brzezinski our troops are now in position to start a land campaign against the PRC!

August 9, 2009 9:50 PM  
Anonymous if i were a maschocist this would be perfect said...

No, what has to happen is that most Americans have to believe that some part of their gov't. cares about something besides their(own) next bank deposit. Something that ain't going to happen with the current prostitute-in-chief.

August 10, 2009 10:44 PM  

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