Monday, March 6, 2017

The Sad Story Being Sold to the Young

Many people today think the world is in sad shape.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

I was talking with a young man at a party the other day.  He was a former Marine who spend a tour of duty in Iraq disarming IEDs.   He was fortunate that no one in his company was injured or killed during his tour, although they had their share of close calls.  I admired his bravery and service.

When I was his age, in the 1970's, there was no drug-testing in the military.  As a result, the post-Vietnam military was rife with drug use and morale was low.   Many judges in that era would suspend the sentences of young men who were arrested for various crimes, if they would join the military instead of going to jail.

Think about that for a second - when I was 18 years old, the military was consider an alternative sentence to jail.   Times have changed, and drug-testing, introduced under President Reagan, started to make a difference.  Today we have a far more professional military than in years' past.

But that is not all that has changed.   My young friend was commiserating how awful things are in this country, how there are no good jobs and how "inflation is ruining the economy."

This last comment struck me as odd.   According to most financial experts, lack of inflation is the real problem today, and Janet Yellen is aiming to fix that real soon.

I think my young friend heard that "inflation is ruining America" on a talk radio show or something - the same sort of shows that tell you that immigrants are ruining this country or whatever.

I tried to explain to him what it was like in the late 1970's and early 1980's and found myself saying that horrible thing - "back when I was your age...." - which is so horrible because it seems like it was not that long ago.   Getting old is weird.   I guess my Dad didn't think that World War II and Hitler were ancient history but shit that happened just a few days before.

But anyway, when "I was his age" inflation was at 10% or more.  Today, it is about 2.5%, which is certainly manageable.  I also tried to explain to him about 10% unemployment, 14% mortgages and evan-and-odd gas days and gas rationing.   It was like talking to a wall.

Then I realized I was talking about shit that happened before he was born and dammit I felt old.

But it did happen, and not that long ago.   Our country was in far worse shape than it is today, and survived and prospered in spite of this.

One of the popular songs of that era (1979) was "Captain America Calling" which posited that America was "down on its knees" and needed help.   

Captain America Calling - oddly enough written by a British rock group

Clearly America has endured bad times in the past before and bounced back.   We've had many financial crises, including the meltdown of 2008, the stag-flation of the 1970's, the recession of 1959, the great depression, and any number of stock bubbles, housing bubbles, currency crises, and whatnot, going back to the founding of the country.   We survived them all, and they were far, far worse that any "crises" today.   We also have survived a number of wars, including a bloody civil war that nearly tore the country in two.

In fact, today is a booming economy, with low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates, moderate growth and a roaring stock market.   How could someone perceive this as bad?

Well, as I noted in Google-Induced Hysteria, people can be driven insane by "fake news" and the spam that floats to the top of Google.   It isn't hard to spoof the search engine that is Google and force your story to the front page.   People listen to the "Mainstream Media" and then go online and find that Google is selling a different story.

For example, this "Lazy Trader App" nonsense that was launched on January 31st already has several pages of fake "review" sites saying either (a) it isn't a scam and you too can strike it rich! or (b) it is a scam, but we have another scam that's even better!   It isn't hard to get your posting onto Google.  My own posting on the subject is already on page 4 and rising - after 65 people read it.  My posting seems to be the only one though, that says that the whole thing - and "binary trading" in general - is just hooey.  The rest are just spam designed to get you to sign up.

So my young friend thinks the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because he listens to talk radio and then goes online and has his opinions reinforced by Google and the various right-wing fake news sites that say the same thing.   The "mainstream media" doesn't report these stories!  So they must be wrong!

We've seen this sort of thing happen before in history, however - time and time again, in fact.   It never ends well.   As I noted in a number of postings, reality is what it is.   College professors who claim that reality is perception-based should be shot.   You can stretch your view of reality, like a rubber band, quite a ways.  Eventually it snaps back and hurts you, or others.

When people as individuals, for example, suspend disbelief and invest in money-for-nothing schemes, whether it is "binary trading" or an over-mortgaged mini-mansion, they disregard reality for a false reality.   And this is not hard to spot, either.  People start chanting slogans instead of thinking.  "Better buy now before you are priced out of the market!"   Suspension of disbelief and shouting down of any dissenting opinions are also part and parcel of this pattern.

But eventually the binary trader loses his shirt, or the overheated housing market melts down - as it did in 2009.   Most folks learn from this and move on.   A surprising number, however, refuse to learn from it and try to find others to blame for their woes.   Usually the first person they pick on is the guy who told them all along it was a scam.

I mentioned before the inventor who called me and asked about "Invent-o-matic company" (or some such name) which promised him riches beyond his wildest dreams.   While on the phone, I e-mailed him several links to scam warning sites, did an online search for his invention (and found it) and let him know it wasn't patentable as a result.  I told him that the company was basically a scam and he thanked me and hung up.   Two weeks later he called back and said I was full of hooey and that the people at Invent-o-matic said his invention was going to make him a millionaire!   And I said "good luck with that" and hung up.  A year later he calls me and blames me for not warning him away from Invent-o-matic.    You see how this works - blame the messenger.

(By the way, it is harder and harder to make up names for hypothetical invention broker companies as they are using all the obvious ones.  I was going to use "Inventco" as a generic name for an invention broker company, but it seems somene is actually using that name.   I am sure "Invent-o-matic" is next on the list.  I am here referring to generic invention broker companies, and not making any comment on a specific company.)

So with the housing crises, the culprit wasn't our own stupid greed but Bill Clinton, who very cleverly, eight years prior, with a Republican Congress, conspired to pass something called the "Community Reinvestment Act" all while getting a blowjob from Monica Lewinsky.  Busy guy, that Bill Clinton!   And the narrative goes that in the eight years since he left office, George Bush was so busy with the "war on terror" that he didn't notice - nor did Congress or the American people - that this CRA was slowly destroying America from within by allowing black people to buy houses.

And of course, black people being black, they all defaulted on their mortgages, which somehow caused the people who were "buying and flipping" houses to lose their shirts.   No, I am not kidding, people actually believe this shit.   Some of my readers in fact, keep bugging me about this narrative, convinced that their own malfeasance is not in play here, but it was all the black people's fault.

I am really sorry - go sell that racist bullshit somewhere else.  Because in addition to being racist, it isn't true.   What caused the meltdown was people building condos no one could afford, banks offering crazy loans that didn't require any documentation, and folks thinking that housing would go up 20% a year indefinitely - and borrowing against phantom equity.

When an individual suspends disbelief, bad things happen to him.   When a society does it, horrific things happen.   And the big daddy of them all is of course, what happened in Germany in the 1930's.   Some folks think that analogies to Nazism are overblown or overstated.   Today, we find a new generation of Nazi apologists and historical revisionists.   They made the trains run on time!  They built the autobahns!  They made the Volkswagen!   They also killed millions of people, both in battle and in extermination camps.  And yes, that all happened, whether you want to believe it or not.

The core "cause" of all of this was not one man, or one party, though.  It was the simultaneous suspension of disbelief of an entire nation and indeed, a large part of the world.   In that era, with the world economy melting down, many thought that dictators were the answer to the world's problems.   Democracy wasn't working - particularly the Parliamentary kind with dozens of parties vying for power (and you think the two-party system sucks!).  Everyone was vying for a piece of the pie and nothing was getting accomplished.   People started to think that a "strong man" who would push through needed changes was the answer.

At the time, Studebaker sold cars named after world leaders.  They had the President, the Chancellor, the Commander, the Ambassador, and the Dictator.   The term "Dictator" didn't have a negative connotation at that point.  And in fact, Americans elected a President - for four terms - who pushed through legislation and rules that were later found to be unconstitutional.   He was accused of being a dictator as well - but people thought that was what they wanted - immediate change that a vacillating Congress wasn't providing.

Needless to say, they renamed the car after a few years.

When enough people believe in an alternate reality, or an alt-right, or fake news (the real fake news, not the fake-fake news - the vocabulary is getting difficult!) then bad things will happen.  When our perception of reality - on both sides of the political spectrum - becomes distorted, reality will slap us very hard in the face when our perceptions inevitably snap back, as they have to eventually do.   You can't live in a fantasy world forever.

And it worries me that this young man in convinced that our country and our economy are in the toilet.  Because if a booming economy and low inflation and low unemployment is the "toilet" then nothing can satisfy his criteria.   And in fact, this is how the right-wing has designed this - to create dissent where there was none.   The entire immigration "crises" was created this way, even as illegal immigration has declined and more and more immigrants are returning to their home countries - before Trump was elected.

And again, we see a mirror in history.  The Nazi party was not successful during the depths of the great depression and the economic crises of Wiemar Germany.   In fact, they were nearly disbanded and Hitler was jailed.   It was only later, when the German economy was actually improving that they managed to gain power, and again, by convincing people that things were worse than they were, and that a scapegoat (Jews) were to blame.

Today, we see much of the same thing happening.   And while Jews are once again getting their share of abuse, it seems that immigrants and Muslims are the first on the chopping block this time around.   If we could just get rid of them, we are told, our country would be a paradise on earth.

I don't buy it.  Our country is already "great".   This story they are trying to sell us is an old one, and far past its sell-by date.   It is just sad to me that young people - who are generally more open-minded - seem to be so close-minded today.