A dear friend of mine recently asked me to dinner. It turned out, he had a "charge" against me he needed to resolve. He challenged me even before he finished his first beer. He had taken umbrage to what he called my "holier than though" attitude about theft, and my accusation that the wealthy in America are not modeling healthy behavior. He is privy to information many are not. Two years ago he challenged me similarly, outside the world headquarters of the Behemoth, which I was about to quit to follow a remarkable woman to California on my bicycle. In quitting, I was also walking away from my house, and $23,000 in credit card debt. His attitude was and remains, in quitting my agreement with the bank and credit card companies, I am taking money away from him.
In a way he is right. Not paying my debt means higher rates for everybody else. How egregious is this behavior of mine is hard to quantify, as I paid the credit card companies more than the balance in interest and fees. Eventually, I settled with Bank of America, which by virtue of their gobbling up of MBNA, owned the debt on both cards. We settled at $3,600 (they sent me a piece of paper declaring the balance as income, which Government charged me $2,540 for. On April 15 of this year I was in possession of exactly 36 dollars.) In total, I have defaulted on, I estimate, approximately $50,000 of debt. Literally, it hasn't cost my friend a thing. The cumulative affect of hundreds of thousands, millions of defaults like mine, certainly has.
Honestly, I don't feel very bad about it. I don't feel good about it either. In fact, I'm torn between counseling Americans not to take on any debt, and counseling my fellow citizens to take on as much debt as the Government and Financial Institutions will give them, and default on every penny of it. Either counsel is treason, from the perspective of economists and the sky gods of Finance; neither path is the complicit support of Empire, though both strike me as a quintessentially American way of going about things, in the ideal. How about, we all take on as much credit as we can, from Governments and Financial Institutions, default on every penny of it, and then never accept credit from anyone ever again?
Spending a few minutes on http://www.usdebtclock.org/ is instructive in this matter. As I write this, the total US National Debt stands at 13.537 trillion dollars. This debt is climbing, by my informal count, at a pace of about $100,000 every three seconds. US Gross Domestic Product, which is not increasing $100,000 every three seconds, stands at $14.560 trillion. Even more instructive is the US Total Debt, "including Household, Business, State and Local Governments, Financial Institutions, and the Federal Government ," which stands at $54.675 trillion.
The past several decades, there has been a shift in America away from manufacturing tangible materials, toward the manufacture of illusory wealth based on the maintenance of debt. Economists, the Federal Government, and Financial sky gods encouraged the taking on of credit by state and local governments, and by individuals, as a means to generate an ongoing fiscal servitude in the form of interest and fees paid by the debtor. This seemed like a great deal, when the economy was hot and money seemed to be falling from the sky; who doesn't want an influx of massive amounts of money? Now the economy is not so hot, the debt feels like a great burden, and local governments and people everywhere are in danger of default. Yet somehow, at the end of the last recession there were more billionaires in America than there were at the beginning of it, and currency and derivatives are now valued at $622.271 trillion, or 607.710 trillion dollars more than the nation's Gross Domestic Product - which one-thousand-three-hundred families control twenty percent of.
It is all so absurd it's almost impossible to believe, how delusional we have become collectively, as if this situation is in any way tenable long term. We as a nation are like rock stars, who open up the pathways so wide they burn up in the intensity of the flow, unable to control it. Even those who are aware the party is coming to an end want to believe it will be a long - if painful - slide through de-industrialization, and not an all-upside-down systemic collapse. I'm not so sure. Even in the face of another potential recession and the pending collapse of the Euro experiment, we are burning pretty damn hot. Burning up the resources of future generations, really. Market worship has a tendency to blind.
My friend challenged me, I listened, and then we had two more beers each. He taught me an old Scottish tune about a Highlander who had no trousers; I told him about a bar named Merlin that stocks one hundred different kinds of scotch, and suggested we go there sometime and get drunk, and hopefully, sing songs and dance. He agreed that was a fine idea. After all, just because The Party is coming to an end, that doesn't mean the partying has to stop entirely. In fact, it is best if we get together, talk about the coming Great Contraction, drink if you like, and most importantly, sing and dance, which the beer and the scotch can help facilitate, at least in the giving of oneself permission, if not in the actual singing and dancing. Though I am not necessarily advocating drunkenness, or the deliberate, broad scale bleeding of the Market. All things in moderation, said the Oracle at Delphi. Every wine will get you high, said Rumi - sample wisely (widely), and choose the purest. Which goes for credit, just as well as scotch.
*******On a Different Note*******
I made it onto TV, though I'm definitely not the star. Check out the "In Person: Magic Mama" video at www.wqow.com/global/story.asp?s=13224711