Who said the global economy was a permanent installation in the human condition? The head cheerleader was The New York Times’s Tom Friedman, with his 1999 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, the trumpet blast for the new order of things. Since then, we partied like it was 1999, with a few grand mal seizures of the banking system along the way, some experiments in creating failed states abroad, and the descent of America’s middle-class into a Disney version of Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment — which is kind of what you see on the streets of Los Angeles these days.
Guess what: the global economy is winding down, and pretty rapidly. Trade wars are the most obvious symptom. The tensions underlying that spring from human population overshoot with its punishing externalities, resource depletion, and the perversities of money in accelerated motion, generating friction and heat. They also come from the fact that techno-industrialism was a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end — and we’re closer to the end than we are to the middle. There will be no going back to the prior party, whatever way we pretend to negotiate our way around or through these quandaries.
The USA-China romance was bound to end in divorce, which Mr. Trump is surreptitiously suing for now under the guise of a negotiated trade rebalancing. The US has got a chronic financial disease known as Triffin’s Dilemma, a set of disorders endemic to any world reserve currency. The disease initially expressed itself in President Nixon’s ditching the US dollar’s gold backing in 1971. By then, the world had noticed the dollar’s declining value trend-line, and threatened to drain Fort Knox to counter the effects of holding those dollars. Since then, all world currencies have been based on nothing but the idea that national economies would forever and always pump out more wealth.
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