Sunday, February 22, 2009

The financial crisis is irrelevant

Just a thought: however bad it gets, the financial crisis is solvable. Whether it takes five, ten, twenty years to sort through all the deleveraging there is nothing in this financial crisis that is going to seriously threaten industrial civilisation. After all, we've been through similar things before. There is no reason why, in 20 years time, the system can't be doing exactly what it was before - chastened, no doubt, but not fundamentally reformed. There will be all sorts of suffering in the meantime - and we need to do all we can to address that, and support those who go to the wall - but it is not, in itself, civilisation-threatening.

In that respect it is very different to the crisis we face with respect to resource limits. These do seriously threaten industrial civilisation. In twenty years time, we will either have shifted to sustainable patterns of life, or we will have embarked upon die-off. Or, perhaps more likely, some will have chosen one way, some will have chosen the other.

The pointer that will tell you if someone 'gets it' is whether they continue to mouth the platitudes about restoring economic growth. Growth - in the sense of anything physical - will not be restored any time soon, certainly not this side of 2050, possibly not ever. Ritual invocations of growth are simply a manifestation of contemporary idolatry. It is a god that has toppled from its plinth.

I can't help but be reminded of Brueggemann's analysis in 'The Prophetic Imagination' when he describes the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh as one between two systems of Gods - the living God versus the gods of the status quo. Each of the plagues topples one of the Egyptian gods - and eventually they are all shown to be worthless.
“The Gods of Egypt could not! The Scientists of the regime could not! The imperial religion was dead! The politics of oppression had failed! That is the ultimate criticism that the assured and alleged power of the dominant culture is now shown to be fraudulent.” The powers have been named, and in being named, they have been dethroned. Now that the dominant system has been unmasked as temporary, that its claims to divine eternity have been exposed, its foundations begin to crumble. “By the middle of the plague cycle Israel has disengaged from the empire, cries no more to it, expects nothing of it, acknowledges it in no way, knows it cannot keep its promises, and knows that nothing is either owed to it or expected of it. That is the ultimate criticism that leads to dismantling.” (see my longer post on this topic here)

So: Obama as Pharaoh? That's certainly what the appointment of people like Geithner would suggest.

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