The be-Muellered, bothered, and bewildered American public may find US-China trade talks about as interesting as a rain delay in an Orioles-Chisox game, but the Friday collapse of negotiations may be marked by historians as the day that the global economy died. The Big Box blue-light-special orgy of bargain shopping ran about thirty years, with China exuberantly pumping out cheap consumer goods to feed the US beast-of-Mammon. Americans happily payed for it all with IOUs based on long daisy chains of previous IOUs. Tom Friedman of The New York Times said it would last forever. Alas….
The paradigm kicked off for one simple reason: energy flows dictated capital flows. By the mid-1980s, the non-OPEC world was once again swimming in oil from the last great bonanzas of the oil age: The Alaska North Slope and the North Sea. Twenty years later, they were running down. Meanwhile, the USA had fecklessly “offshored” its factories in the mistaken belief that we had entered a shimmering new digital economy of virtual business were nobody had to make real stuff. China became the world’s workshop and the USA became the world’s financial bucket-shop, churning out endless swindles and frauds. The predictable result was the financial crisis of 2008, which coincided with oil prices rising to over $140-a-barrel (and six months later they crashed, with the economy, to under $30-a-barrel).
The “recovery” from that was based on Wall Street’s premier swindle: the shale oil “miracle,” based on high-risk lending to companies that couldn’t make a red cent even while accomplishing the majestic stunt of exceeding America’s old 1970 oil production peak of around 10 million barrels-a-day (now at around 12 million). Notice, too, that the final push to 12-million barrels occurred during the last two years: thus, Mr. Trump’s miracle economy. All that, to paraphrase the immortal words of Mr. Dylan, balances like a mattress on a bottle of wine.
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