Thursday, October 02, 2008

Barter Town?

The imagery of "Barter Town" in relationship to the fear of forecast economic collapse if we don't grant Secretary Paulson sweeping new powers and an ability to tap the public treasury for another $700+ Billion dollars caught my attention more than a week ago in a DailyKos diary by Larry Madill: ACTION REQUIRED: Executive Power Grab in Banking Bail Out Bill, in one of the most enticing above-the-cut lead-ins:
If you care to check my posting and comment history you will see that I have been totally in favor of a bail out rescue plan for our financial markets. I've said and will continue to say that it is a necessary evil to keep the U.S. from collapsing into a Second Depression. Sorry, I don't see pie in the blue sky alternative proposals like the government paying off everyone's mortgages as viable, nor do I think we should let the economy collapse in a heap to punish the rich (who never get punished) and then go off to live in a Barter Town world were we all grow corn on the roof. The U.S. definitely needs to do something fast to stop the erosion of the financial markets.

BUT, as NPR's Adam Davidson points out in his new Planet Money Blog, this bill also appears to constitute the greatest transfer of political power from the Congressional to the Executives Branches ... Possibly ever.

I don't fear barter town, and yet I am not a serious proponent of it. I think our economic uncertainty could be dealt with by real leadership but the party in power wants to milk our fears for a last attempt to bankrupt civil society. I find it somewhat hilarious, but even more sad, that so many Americans are reacting to the fear of an economic meltdown as if were a threat to their physical being. Hopefully that physical fear will result in a new consciousness of the physical economy, and less reliance on hope, magical thinking, and blind trust placed on economic advisers, retirement planners, marketers of financial abstractions like derivatives and hedge funds.

Absent real leadership, we had better prepare for Barter Town, because it is coming sooner or later.

I have seen Barter Town, and been prepared for it most of my life. My father survived growing up in the Great Depression and wandering in the Himalayan foothills of Burma after his plane went down in WWII, and he passed on some knowledge that was the fruit of his experience in times and places where self-sufficiency or affability/social graces were the difference between real survival and real death. I saw various degrees of Barter town after the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997-1998 and again after the tsunami, in Aceh. I have seen currency lose and regain all value, and the value of gasoline exceed the value of human life. No, I don't propose we seek barter town to punish the rich and the profligate risk takers in the big banks and insurance firms. I do propose that if we increase the public debt by another $700 Billion to $1 trillion we do it by spending on real physical infrastructure, creating green jobs and energy independence, a distributed and resilient power grid that will not be metered by the literal or philosophical descendants of T. Boone Pickens, Richard Cheney, or that madman in "There Will Be Blood" (I drink your milkshake!)


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