Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 22, 2008
Watching the near collapse of the U.S. economy has been like watching a patient on life support. The Fed and the Treasury rescue the so-called free market the way a doctor orders a blood transfusion.
The patient revives momentarily, then slumps again into a coma. A new prognosis reveals far deeper ills. Time for another transfusion … this time from a fire hose gushing $700 billion in taxpayer money. New blood is pumped into a sclerotic arterial system, and it’s our blood the money doctors take.
The biggest hope (a sucker is born every minute) is that these transfusions will be paid back. Critics say they won’t, and that the domino effect will ruin the U.S. economy, eviscerate the U.S. Treasury and plunge our country into intractable debt.
Chief among these critics is James Howard Kunstler, whose blog column is a must-read for anyone interested in unadorned, entertaining analysis. Kunstler lays the blame for today’s clusterf–k squarely on eight years of incompetent Republican administration.
“I urge readers of this blog,” wrote Kunstler last week, “to identify the Republican Party by its new brand-name: ‘the party that wrecked America.’ At least, then, we can reinstate one cardinal value into the juddering structure of what we claim to believe: that actions have consequences, that you can’t just swindle and loot a society and walk away with the swag.”
But that’s just what has happened. Somebody has walked away with enough swag to flood an investment bank, or maybe a dozen of them, and we taxpayers are picking up the tab. It’s enough to make you want to stop filing, or at least cheat like hell on your returns.
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As the economy staggers like a drunk going from a beer-pong frat party to an AA meeting, you have to wonder how it’s going to shake out in the local picture. When and how will the financial tsunami send ripples through the Roaring Fork Valley?
A sense of instability is the first tremor, marked by tightened lending practices and reduced personal consumption. Real estate and land development, our primary industries, will slow. Jobs will disappear. Tourism will falter. Energy and transportation costs will rise. The public mood will sour.
There will be a ramping up of oil and gas exploration as the energy sector desperately tries to drill the country out of a financial mess that hinges inexorably on energy. The impacts on our western landscapes could be catastrophic as the “drill, baby, drill” mandate gets shoved down our throats.
Drilling will pale next to oil shale development, which will dwarf anything we’ve ever seen in the West. Barring a public outcry and a sane reform of energy policy, an oil shale energy frenzy will blight our region with boomtown bonanzas, water wars and air pollution.
The Republican “fire sale” on public lands is undermining conservation values by gutting the last fatted calf ” the rural West ” leaving our children a legacy of exploitive land use for short-term profit. McCain and Palin are following the same faulty roadmap to a sacrifice zone near you.
The only silver lining to an economic collapse is that it slows building and manufacturing and reduces consumption of energy and raw materials. It puts the brakes on an insatiable growth cycle that has been plundering the world of natural resources for decades, destroying habitat, causing species extinctions and overpopulating the planet.
“To the extent that we banish the rest of life,” biologist E.O. Wilson writes in “Consilience,” “we will impoverish our own species for all time … So a very Faustian choice is upon us: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behavior as the unavoidable price of population and economic growth, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic.”
Lacking such an ethic, even when it means preserving the life support that our green planet provides us, only a collapse of the system that’s raping it can stem the tide. Relying on a crash is not smart management ” it’s brutal ” but a crash may be the only thing that deflects us from the collision course we’re on today.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.