Lemmings have had really rotten press for a long time and it's all Walt Disney's fault. It seems like forever that his name has been synonymous with clean and cutesy family entertainment, but in hard times he was just one more moneyed sociopath out of a number of power and nubile- obsessed swine who could make and break careers at a whim and in the McCarthy era it became deadly serious. Between Disney,Tail Gunner Joe, Richard Nixon and the president of the screen actor's guild Ronald Reagan, dozens of supposed communist sympathizers in Hollywood and elsewhere were blacklisted including Charlie Chaplain. So no-one was too big except Allen Ginsberg who didn't give a damn and taunted them at the hearings. "You should have seen me reading Marx!"
But as for lemmings as a metaphor for mindless public hysteria - that well- known clip on Disney Studio's nature series where the lemmings; desperately trying to escape the Malthusian horror of close contact with their fellows, arrive finally at an oceanside cliff and throw themselves over into the icy water. This was later admitted to have been fabricated. In fact they are a timid and conservative creature except where mating is concerned and they were trapped, corralled and pushed off the cliff with a low scraper. Likewise the little black bear; tumbling endlessly down the hill had been thrown over for our amusement.
If the social and financial ruin of human beings isn't enough to damn someone, the lemmings and bear cub ought to suffice. Walt is presently in cryogenic storage awaiting the scientific advances that will see him thawed and returned to wealth and influence in some time and place where posterity requires another narrow, nefarious and self-serving jerk. In the meantime it's colder than hell.
I had planned to argue that lemmings were not an appropriate metaphor for the pursuit of home ownership in the face of an increasing disconnect between renting and ownership cost. But the housing bubble has been going on forever here and expectations of capital gains have become part of our birthright. So with an ever- increasing majority willing to take on magnified risks and the subset of smug investors willing to subsidize rentals; prices have reached nosebleed levels in the major cities and only a highly- skewed conventional wisdom and record low interest rates could possibly lever those whining and envious Gen Ys onto the merciless 'home ownership ladder;' with an average mortgage of three hundred thousand dollars for any low- grade biscuit box in the city. But Disney changes all that. They and all of us are victims of a pyramid of invisible context; the basis of which is the necessary death of money.
Why did something so desirable and convenient have to die? Many books have and will be written on the subject. But for those of us with a long-term memory it started with personal experience in childhood; faced with those difficult decisions about immediate or delayed gratification. Did you save a dime for college or spend it on an ice cream bar? At the time college was presented as the virtuous alternative but by the time we got there, 10 cents didn't come close to buying an ice cream bar anymore even if it had been gathering compound interest for ten years. We would have been ahead if only we had bought blue chip shares, houses, art or antique motorcycles, and so our indoctrination was begun at least fifty years ago. Only a schmuck saved money; in half a century that 10 cent ice cream bar became a $3 ice cream bar which is a 97% capital loss on your piggy bank's contents whatever the cant about 'hedonic deflators' which is the dubious proposition that today's ice cream bar isn't 30 times the price because you are purchasing a BETTER bar with waffle cone and crushed peanuts. Money is dying faster than we ourselves, but however fast it is NEVER enough.
It's Economics 100! Supply and demand! If you satisfy demand via increased capacity and inventories especially for capital goods and enduring, worthwhile things beyond food, Catherine wheels and MIRVed warheads, you can't keep those factories humming, workers employed and paying rent and taxes and spending, spending, spending, driving money velocity and borrowing to drive money supply ever upwards; motivating everyone to dump this crap from your wallet while you can still find a taker at the old price. And so demand is raised and consumption of all things is brought forward because everyone knows it will cost ever more in the future. One consequence however is the boom and bust cycle and in the slowdown the eventual failure of neo-Keynesian theory when no-one in the real world who needs to borrow can borrow; nor does anyone who can borrow have a reason to.
And beneath all that glisters and froths in the sunlight come the low growls and squeals of the contextual machinery driving the juggernaut: the corporatization of the world of business where those magical market mechanisms ideologues pray to also happen to include the market for power and influence by which competition is for little people only, who still by some odd mental gymnastics identify themselves and their grocery or stationery shops with the titans; Henry Ford, Warren Buffet; ubermenschen even unto the fictional John Galts of the world. All our cabinet ministers too have cut their teeth on Ayn Rand, a sociopathic little jezebel who never invented anything beyond her characters and some variations on pole dancing. She was fascinated by psychopathic criminals and Allen Greenspan studied at her feet. Maybe he was one of her lovers, whichever he found the inspiration to do whatever it took to transform himself from an unknown little Jewish saxophonist and hard money theorist to the financial genius 'Easy Al' who presided over the Federal Reserve, strutting the world stage during those golden years when clueless school kids and starlets made share market fortunes-they were better at it than anybody - and the ultimate end of American financial primacy was written in the bedrock.
The bubble economy was engineered via liberalisation of the banking system; including the repeal of the Glass Steagal act which then allowed bankers to leverage themselves and profitability to new heights without the old prudential regulations that protected their capitalisation and customer's deposits. It was as if you couldn't write loans if you had to actually determine your customer's creditworthiness and this has been taken to the final extreme in the Over The Counter derivative business where esoteric financial agreements are constructed, bought and sold with incredible leverages and liabilities to ultimately god knows who. And when still- existent laws are purposefully or inadvertently broken, token fines are agreed upon that inevitably fail to match the magnitudes of the resultant profits and become simply a cost of business. And should all this ever have to be unwound it will take 20 years of legal wrangling between non-existent entities and money and the world as we know it shall come to an end. Or maybe we do know kind of; via George Orwell and Robert Mugabe.
Next The Mathematics of the Fall