Flashback to flash forward... Fulcrumage is upon us!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hW2zg-boQE
Friday, May 20, 2016
As the world stares in disbelief at the U.S. elections, what I find even more incredulous is the abject failure of anyone focusing on the elections that really matter – the Class 3 U.S. Senate races. The Republicans have 24 seats up for elections and the Democrats have 10. These are the races that matter and no one is watching. Far more impactful than the illusion of the Presidency (see my novel Coup D’Twelve) is the power wielded by the Senate and this class is one that could tackle some of modernity’s greatest challenges. Towards the top of that list is the looming financial crisis in the welfare and pension system known as Social Security.
When Social Security was enacted in 1935, the retirement age was established as 65 years of age. In 2016, this sounds like the prime of life well before death. But in 1935, life expectancy was 60 years. In other words, the majority of the working population was never supposed to live to receive any benefit as the program was set up to deal with the inconvenience of those who lived too long. In 1935, only 15% of the working population had any corporate pension plan. By 1970, this had tripled to 45%. In 1974, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), what was meant to increase the private sector employer’s responsibility for retirement economic security had within it the seeds of the demise of retirement income as we know it. But more on that in a minute.
Living longer presents a host of problems for a system that was designed for working until death. With baby-boomer retirement, the nearly 3:1 ratio of workers to retirees is expected to drop to about 2:1 by 2035. The Social Security Board of Trustees reported that their cash reserves will be exhausted by 2035 with all of their programs running decreasing cash reserves since the peak in 2012. In 2000, about one quarter of the population relied on Social Security as its primary source of retirement income. Last year, that number rose to one third. Of current retirees, nearly 2/3s rely on Social Security as their primary source of income and these are the ones who will experience the coming economic shocks the hardest. To make it to cash-reserve burn out in 2035, the Social Security program must decrease benefits by as much as an estimated 21% while increasing the collection of payroll taxes. And what makes all of the statistics most troubling is that they’re all incorrect. Together with the private pensions under the ERISA programs, Social Security funds and their life-expectancy are based on a series of assumptions that do not hold.
Since the mislabeled GFC of 2007-08, the intervention of Central Banks to pump low-interest capital into the economy has allegedly averted the crisis facing the markets in the wake of reckless behavior. This intervention did have the effect of moving citizens into deeper debt linked to real estate investments. Creating massive overweight investment focus on real estate and, in so doing, extending the cash-flow requirements for workers well-beyond their pre-retirement years places compounded risks on a system that’s already fragile. The same government that creates agency loans for real estate is the same government that invests in the debt of its citizens. That same government uses these debt instruments as the “assets” that backstop the pensions and pension liabilities that are due in the future. So, when the 21% benefit reduction hits the market and defaults on real estate assets start climbing, the very “assets” that insure pensions will be illiquid at the very moment that beneficiaries are stretched to address their indebtedness. This correlated market risk is not factored into the actuarial assumptions for public or private pensions and the tsunami is already in the water rushing towards the unsuspecting public.
Historians suggest that the Greeks stored olive oil as a means of securing their economic security in times of instability or at latter stages of life. As it was relatively easy to store and could be monetized at will, olive oil was a prudent commodity to smooth the effects of changes in economic status. Government-backed real estate loans are not olive oil! When Thomas Paine suggested that the American experiment should include old-age investment support to deal with poverty in his treatise Agrarian Justice (1795), his efforts were to modernize the nearly 200 years of “Poor Laws” that had built massive social failures for those in dire straits. In 1882, piano and organ manufacturer Alfred Dolge established America’s first corporate pension program which, regrettably failed due to the failure of the business. Eighteen years later, 4 other companies joined Dolge. Despite these early efforts to recognize that rent-based labor was inadequate to sustain the life of laborers, at no point did the market or public realize that it was industrial capitalism, not end-of-life charity, that was the problem.
So, as we look forward into January 2017, we’re going to encounter a looming super-storm. We have the 115th Congress that will take its place to preside over the collapse of the Social Security paradigm as we know it. We have corporations who have been so derelict in reporting the status of their pension funding (which is under-funded and over leveraged in many instances) that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) has doubled fines on those who don’t report adequately in a desperate effort to get more money. Bloomberg reported on what’s become known as “zombie pension plans” and the fact that financial managers are frequently abusing these funds to the detriment of their fiduciary obligations. The PBGC has been petitioned to reduce the financial obligations of pension schemes as a growing number of programs are under-funded or outright insolvent. And the PBGC itself is not clear whether it has enough money to cover its obligations without curtailing benefits. The “baby-boomer” zombie pensions are coming home to roost and those who think their retirement is covered have another think coming. We have ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which will move more corporate treasuries (and jobs) overseas well out of illiquid pension retrieval reach. And we’ll have a President who…, oh that’s right, who isn’t qualified to lead the country through any one of these storms – saying nothing about all of them descending at once.
I’m going to writing more about the critique of capitalism as it’s practiced now. Regrettably, we have not had an intervention-free experiment anywhere on earth yet so a critique of the principles is inaccessible in any date. But what we know is that by failing to measure the value of humanity’s contribution to the march of industry, many of the laborers who have been chewed up by the system are going to have serious tummy aches when they find out the promises that the capitalist system made are as soulless as… a zombie.
Monday, May 2, 2016
In 65 AD, Seneca the Younger wrote in Naturales Quaestiones Book 1 that a rainbow “requires both sun and cloud, and these opposite to each other.” Optical physics informs us that, to see a rainbow, we need to be positioned at approximately 42° from the interaction between sunlight and rain or atmospheric water droplets to perceive the refraction of light. All of which adds to the apparent mystery that took place at 6:30am AEST on Saturday, April 30 around the Spring Cove Sydney Harbor. While we were commencing our morning yoga and meditation at the Breathing Enterprise inaugural laboratory at the Manly Q Station beach, a massive rainbow appeared before the sunrise in the East! Aristotle, Seneca, and others have explained that morning rainbows are to the west and afternoon rainbows are to the East. But this rainbow, on this day, didn’t get the memo. It sprung up in a solid light column in the southern bank of the Sydney harbor opening and arched its way north to the Manly beach. The sun had yet to rise yet there it was – a gorgeous arch of brilliant colors.
During the weekend, close to 60 of us were working through an intensive process of reorienting our perspective to examine the human condition and see if there are some principles in nature that could inform and better serve humanity’s interaction in the world. This involved a number of modalities engaged to deconstruct and integrate principles that are observed in nature to examine what makes them Persistent, Generative, and Infinitely Orthogonal while most, if not all, of our human systems seem to “require” effort and conflict. Using a method recently described by Jacques Derrida in his 1967 work Of Grammatology and sympathetic to works of Gregory Bateson, Bertrand Russell and others, I sought to awaken the minds of the participants by holding tension between the words we use – the technology of language – and the essence that they seek to awaken or engage. Deconstruction is a rigorous process and it stretches everyone to the edge (and for a few, beyond) their comfort zone. In the film I produced with Kaya Finlayson, Future Dreaming, I discussed the ways in which we’ve enslaved our human experience with language. I was intrigued, throughout the weekend, how many people, in spite of the explicit critique of our terms of indenture (having to “make a living”, the “need for…”, “if I had…”), continued to use as justification for their feelings of hurt, isolation, and purposelessness the illusion that the world is somehow conspiring against them and that they’re trapped. “Yes, I’d love to do things that deeply engage my true sense of purpose but I have to go to my job to make a living…”, was a refrain that echoed in many early hours of our interaction.
When light passes through a droplet of water, the luminance of the sun is refracted and is subtly dispersed based on the wavelengths within the light. Shorter wavelengths (blue) appear to distinguish from longer wavelengths (red) and the appearance of difference emerges. Our perception of the energy of light allows us, through the introduction of a temporal variation optimizing the spectrum, to manifest a momentary appreciation for dimensions that we could not otherwise perceive. The droplet of water – a time and space machine allowing for more precise discernment in the moment – is to light what the Breathing Enterprise laboratory is to the consensus energy of our social systems. By placing the droplet or the experience into the flow of existence, we can discern the subtle components of what appears to be an indecipherable whole. But like the rainbow which affords distinction in the unseen ray of light (you don’t see the shaft of light that is refracted by the droplet) so to does the deconstruction of language-linked reality afford us to perceive components that were not otherwise available for distinction and discernment.
Many enterprises strive to be capable of delivering a consensus product or service. “Come to the workshop and you will…,” is the siren that brings people into the modality of the modern social technology of learning. When we discussed The Awakening, I was very explicit on the fact that this was meant to be a laboratory – not a workshop in the common use of the term. Quite ironically, inspite of the clarity of that message, some people came expecting what they’ve been conditioned to experience in the past: an event that is constructed to salve the pain of the consensus illusion. These people left in frustration and in varying degrees of motivation to malign and diminish. Others came having no idea what to expect and it was in the very willingness to engage in the not knowing that their insights and personal break-through moments happened.
See the funny thing about nature is that it’s wisdom is available in its observation, not in its manipulation. The rainbow on Saturday couldn’t happen yet it did. And the life-transformations – the reality that for the first time many people uncovered as a path to their lives’ purposes – which also lay as fallow prospects in the distant memory of most manifest not because of a “truth” that was shared. These came about because of the dance between light and the storm. I’m deeply honored by all of the team in the Breathing Enterprise and I’m deeply honored by all of those who came and stuck through the process to the end. For in the end, we found our true beginnings and that, my friends, is the pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow!
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Close to 800,000 French citizens lost much if not all of their monetary wealth including a reported 15,000 single women in the Panama scandal. 510 politicians had pocketed bribes to keep the matter out of the public eye. Many were indicted. Of the few who went to trial for admitted corruption, all were acquitted save one minister for city development who committed suicide. After the press broke the scandal, there were allegations that the leak of information to the public was part of some deeper anti-Semitic agenda as some of the middle-men were dodgy Jewish financiers. When all was said and done, corrupt politicians involved in covering up the deception pocketed over half the total 1.8 billion Francs that were stolen from the public. And nothing changed. This was 123 years ago and the event was the bankruptcy of the Panama Canal Company. The public outcry led to lasting reform and the people all got the justice that for so long had been denied them. Oops! No. In fact, this evisceration of public investment led to the distressed acquisition of the Panama Canal by the United States for about $40 million dollars and the permanent loss of economic assets by the French public.
When the report of the leaked 80 gigabits of records of Mossack Fonseca was published in February 2015 (a year before the public learned of the “Panama Papers” scandal) in Süddeutsche Zeitung the scope of corruption of public officials and corporations was not fully understood. The next 2.6 terabytes of data – ultimately uploaded to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington D.C. – were reviewed revealing the records of nearly 10% of all offshore companies with land holdings in Britain. Edward Snowden referred to the Panama Papers as the “biggest leak in the history of journalism,” knowing full well he’s holding onto the even bigger leak about other corporate activities that will make tax evasion and asset hiding child’s play. And by this, I’m not referring to the SZ comment that, “what’s coming next,” may include a lot more information about Americans and American corporations. What I’m referring to is the massive number of U.S. corporations that have used their commercial access around the world for corrupt and clandestine purposes referenced in Hank Crumpton’s The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service.
What do the Panama Paper’s tell us about ourselves? What is the significance of the Panama Papers in the larger context of the economic system in which we operate? What does it say about our political leadership to realize those who are setting public policy see their own policies as so odious that they need to evade their own rules?
The Panama Papers evidence, above all else, that the illusion of the dominant economic framework of our time is a rigged game. While I’ve been a long-standing critic of the immoral worldview that was promulgated by the Judeo-Christian contrivance of human “dominion” over everything – these papers genuinely indict those who perceive beneficence in the “unseen hand” in the market place. The unseen hand is connected to the public’s pocket and has been picking it for longer than anyone wants to admit. The hypnosis under which most of the general public operate – that finance and politics are beyond the remit of the pedestrian brain – is as much to indict as the actors that prey on this apathetic social meme. And it’s rather important to note that the ICIJ did not release all of the records. In other words, editorial decisions about who to vilify and who to shield were part and parcel of the “greatest leak” to date. In short, even those who are allegedly at the vanguard of disclosure are still holding onto the illusion that someone somewhere needs to be the “bad guy” and someone else is “not”. Like so many disclosures before, the paternalistic determination of what the “public needs to know” supports the very information arbitrage that keeps those in power in power and those without power impotent against the certainty that corruption marches on unabated.
The Panama Papers conveniently demonstrate the genius of the British Empire. In the First Article of the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812, the groundwork for revenue shifting and base erosion (the OECD’s term for tax evasion) was laid in subtle most favored nations concessions ratified by the United States, His Britannic Majesty and the Dey of the Regency of Algiers. In the agreement to an inviolable, universal peace – a lofty sounding concession – the ability for the Empire to preserve its banking and asset shielding status was solidified. And while the United States – having recently gained independence from Great Britain – was going to turn into an industrial juggernaut compared to its former colonial master, Great Britain, its laws, its concessions to aristocracy, and its financial institutions was going to have the last laugh repatriating the wealth from the very lands it had “lost”. In short, the brash American experiment failed before it even had a generation under its belt and the Panama Papers are just the tip of the iceberg when we see how much the British Empire controls or holds in terms of global assets.
I have encountered, over the past month, a stream of humanity who have all lamented their incapacity to “do something” about the certainty that they have that the economic house of cards is about to collapse in a manner far worse than the GFC in 2007-08. From the “consciousness-minded” to the mercantile industrialist to the entrepreneur, the sense that the game is rigged is universal but equally universal is the perception that there’s not a damn thing that you can do about it. This is not the case. But like most other systemic failures, when massive “leaks” are released, it’s important to look at what else is moving in the shadows while the focus is on the “leaks”. For example, during the week that the world was focused on the Panama Papers, no one seemed to focus on the 2016 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers issued by the White House. In this document, the Obama Administration addresses the motivations behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement signed in February 2016 in Auckland. So while we’re talking about tax shelters, we’re explicitly working to install tax policies that favor U.S. trade advantage for the estimated $131 billion per year from our trading partners in the Pacific, “because we know that when the playing field is level, our workers and businesses can compete – and win – in the global economy.” Cool thing is that when level means “flowing in favor of the U.S.” the winning is a bit easier. Create enough noise in the Atlantic and Caribbean and no one will look in the Pacific!
So what’s it going to be? 123 years from now, will this bluster in the Caribbean be yet another in the long line of humanity being robbed, feeling like it’s incapable of responding, and then being primed to be robbed again? Is this another time when we acquiesce to the establishment and our notion that corruption is a necessary evil? Are we unwilling to call out the violations of social dignity because somewhere we know we’d do it ourselves if we had the resources and the power to do so? Or are we ready to play on a different playing field – one that doesn’t require leveling because all the contours and sand traps are known to all the players? Are we willing to use models that are not based on corrupt incumbencies and be courageous enough to face a world in which our “salaries”, “assets” and our “economic status” do not define us but our productive engagement and social utility does?
Thursday, April 7, 2016
“And so in war; if the campaign is in summer the general must show himself greedy for his share of the sun and the heat, and in winter for the cold and the frost, and in all labours for toil and fatigue. This will help to make him beloved of his followers." – Xenophon’s Cyropaedia
“And then the banquet came to an end: the guests rose, and Cyrus stood up with them and conducted them to the door.
And to those who went home he gave many gifts and sent them away well content, both officers and men. After this he distributed among his own soldiers all the wealth he had taken at Sardis, choice gifts for the captains of ten thousand and for his own staff in proportion to their deserts, and the rest in equal shares, delivering to every captain one share with orders to divide it among their subordinates as he had divided the whole among them. Thereupon each officer gave to the officers directly under him, judging the worth of each, until it came to the captains of six, who considered the cases of the privates in their own squads, and gave each man what he deserved: and thus every soldier in the army received an equitable share. But after the distribution of it all there were some who said:
"How rich Cyrus must be, to have given us all so much!"
"Rich?" cried others, "what do you mean? Cyrus is no money-maker: he is more glad to give than to get."
When Cyrus heard of this talk and the opinions held about him, he gathered together his friends and the chief men of the state and spoke as follows:
"Gentlemen and friends of mine, I have known men who were anxious to have it thought they possessed more than they really had, thinking this would give them an air of freedom and nobility. But in my opinion the result was the very opposite of what they wished. If it is thought that a man has great riches and does not help his friends in proportion to his wealth, he cannot but appear ignoble. There are others," he went on, "who would have their wealth forgotten, and these I look upon as traitors to their friends: for it must often happen that a comrade is in need and yet hesitates to tell them because he does not know how much they have, and so he is kept in the dark and left to starve. The straightforward course, it seems to me, is always to make no secret of our own resources, but to use them all, whatever they are, in our efforts to win the crown of honour.”
With these words he proceeded to point out his visible treasures, and he gave an exact account of those that could not be shown. He ended by saying:
"All these things, gentlemen, you must consider yours as much as mine. I have collected them, not that I might spend them on myself or waste them in my own use: I could not do that if I tried. I keep them to reward him who does a noble deed, and to help any of you who may be in want of anything, so that you may come to me and take what you require." - Xenophon’s Cyropaedia
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required: and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. – Luke 12:48, The Bible
The gospel accounts in Matthew 25:13-30 and Luke 19:11-17 have been a near constant obsession since I was 11 years old. The story is simple – or at least it should be. A master is heading out on a trip. He calls together three servants and to one he gives five measures, to another he gives two, and to another, one. And then he leaves. After an indeterminate time, he returns and asks them to give account for what they’ve done. The one that was entrusted with 5 invested and returned 10. The master was pleased and entrusted him with charge over ½ of his estate. The one who had 2 also doubled his wealth and was given charge of ¼ of the estate. And the one that had one said that he had buried it for safe keeping and was returning it intact. The master was furious and ordered the one measure to be given to the one that had returned 10, and punished and banished the last servant. (Bummer for the communists among us – Jesus justified the rich getting richer! Occupy that 99%ers!). And these two stories fuel the fabled admonition that if you’ve been “given much, much will be required.”
But the cunning linguistic avoidance of all the wisdom in this story and the failure to put it in the context of the passage where the admonition actually comes from robs us of much wisdom. No one in the story was “given” anything – they we’re entrusted as stewards. And their accountability was not to aspire to being defined by their assets but rather to return even greater value to the master. At no point did the assets change ownership. They remained, at all times, in the discretion of the master. And nothing about being a steward transformed the servants into “masters”. Cyrus the Great did not see spoils of war as “his” but merely that which he “collected”. Throughout the accounts of his life, he constantly embodied stewardship.
stew·ard·ship (n): the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care
I’ve experienced some poignant reminders lately about why Cyrus and the gospel parables have been both haunting and motivating throughout my life. Several years ago, an armed soldier thrust the barrel of an automatic rifle at me and yelled, “I can take your life.” Without missing a beat I responded, “You can’t take something from me which is not mine to give.” When you have a gun barrel at your chest, it’s a bad idea to confuse the gun wielding angry man. But it was somewhat amusing to observe that the power of the gun seemed to be entirely overtaken with the cognitive dissonance my response unleashed in the poor guy’s head. He lowered the barrel and simply gazed at me with a far-off puzzling look as I walked away. This experience, for me, was confirmation of the reflex of stewardship. The recognition that life, ideas, experiences, people, and resources are not mine. I am merely the collector and steward of those things that have been placed within my sphere of influence.
So I’m puzzled when I hear people refer to ideas that I’ve shared as something they “control”. I find myself deeply hurt when I hear someone refer to groups of people as “my contacts” or “my group”. When work that’s been developed in collaboration suddenly is appropriated as “mine” or subject to “my” control, I wonder what purpose is purportedly served. When I developed the technologies that have ranged from laser surgical devices to linguistic genomics unstructured data analytics to hieroglyphic enciphering to anechoic materials to optomagnetic synthetics to accretive arbitrage finance, I know that none of these were “mine”. They represented the accumulation of all my observations and experiences in a context in which their manifestation was possible. That they achieve scales of impact beyond the ordinary and are of inestimable value doesn’t make “me” rich or powerful. Because these concepts (wealth, power, status) born of aspirational dominion are of no consequence in reality. They feed illusions that beget separation and isolation.
I’m working with two different groups on highly disparate projects. In one instance, I’m seeking to build enterprises around the many assets that have been manifest in my corporate activity. I have carefully conscripted individuals with precise competencies to the table to work with us on harvesting the value that we’ve validated. And much to my sadness, this impulse has engendered a response of appropriation. “I’ll take this from you,” is the response to an offer of collaboration. This response has been a near constant companion to each moment I’ve extended the enterprise table to others. In another deeply personal instance, I’ve watched as a massive catalyst for deep social transformation has become the basis for claims of proprietary control all the while knowing that the substance of the catalyst – an impulse coherent with humanity’s best expression – transcends containment and dominion. When did we lose the recognition that we’re in this thing called life together and we’re entrusted with the tools, insights, connections, and networks through which we’re provisioned and by which we can provision others? When did we stop observing Light and recognizing that energetic transmission – not hording or absorbing – is the ideal condition?
I stood on the green marble rostrum at the United Nations General Assembly hall yesterday in New York City. I was invited to speak about the work I’ve done to find peaceful resolution to conflict in places ranging from Central America to Central Asia to Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. I have no idea whether I will ever stand in that spot again. So this was “my” moment, right? No, I spoke about the wonderful experiences I had with combatants and refugees during the Nicaraguan conflict in the 1980s, the amazing fellowship I had with Lawrence Daveona, Chris Uma and the combatants at the Morgan Junction access road to Panguna Mine, and the myriad of people around the world with whom this life has intersected – people who will likely never stand in the great hall of the United Nations. This was not MY moment. It was a moment for all those who have shared their journey with me and entrusted the story of our lives to me!
We’ve all been entrusted with various amounts of life, experience, story, legacy, resources, networks, friends, capabilities, etc. These are not “ours” and they defy the idolatry of turning them into appropriated artifacts. They are merely those energies over which we have the opportunity to exercise stewardship. And, if we’ve been entrusted with much, let’s let it flow in channels that maximize those impacts to others.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Fourteen days after the New Moon on the Ecclesiastical Lunar Calendar. Hmmm, let’s see… Easter must be about Christianizing the Jewish Passover with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, or the best time to eat too much chocolate! Oh, and the Passover must be the Abrahamic overlay to the Isis and Osiris festival of fertility. Egypt may have been inspired by the Mesopotamian Inana / Ishtar cults that found the vernal equinox the cause of sacred reverence for fertility. And so on and so on. On the foundation of one “indigenous” and “pagan” ritual, the dominant ones build their sacred! How tired a story this is. Fourteen days. What else is 14 days? Oh, that’s right. In folk medicine and present endocrine research, the relationship with lunar light exposure seems to be associated with ovulation. In a recent epidemiological study, conception at full moon disproportionately favored male births while waxing, waning and no moons favored female births. Could it be that the Exodus, the Inana / Ishtar Mesopotamian fertility rites, and the Constantinian obsession with the vernal equinox as a date for the rites of Christianity’s Easter all have as much or more to do with fertility than they do with religious icons?
Now there’s a strong temptation on my part to go down the tangent of railing against the illusion that anyone has a monopoly on “truth” or “right” given the preponderance of evidence stating that we are hopelessly predictable in our lack of creativity. Everybody’s got their Creation, Flood, Burial and Resurrection, and Final Judgement stories and myths and the numbers of days 6, 40, 3, and eternity are the same in every human contrivance to explain why: a) you’re bad for being human; and, b) someone or something is going to get you so be very scared (a.k.a. behave in a manner that reinforces the dominant power structure du jour). I could comment on the irony that the best we seem to get is our pathetic re-narration of tired myths in which, the mere changing of the names we place on the pantheon makes our story “right” and all other stories “wrong”. I could observe that it’s precisely this abject ignorance that lands us in a world where our elections are rigged for theatrics while masses suffer unnecessarily. But this would be a rant and not an appropriate blog post so I’m going to leave all of those topics for another day! Whew! Dodged a metaphoric bullet from a concealed carry at the Republican nominating convention!
What I do find instructive about the Fertility Rites of Spring and their attendant invocation of “new life” and “fertility” is a much more profound insight that has been missing from the economy for as long as the illusion of debt has dominated our economic framework. The agrarian impulses of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Yellow and the Yangtze, the Susquehanna and the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile realized that life on this planet happened in seasons. Floods moved silted ground into lands that could be easily tilled for planting. The warm summers gave rise to the bountiful harvests that would feed the children born of Spring mating rites. A world filled with Scorpios and Sagittarians was a world of independent nomads and wanders who could live on the frontiers and optimistic social beings, respectively. These were the infants that lived because they had ample food most of the time.
With the advent of industrial and mercantile impulses that built towns, cities and states, the rhythm of the spheres was drowned out by the clang of steel, the pump of the bellows, the belching of smoke and steam, the whir of engines, and the hypnotic pulse of 60Hz current. And we fell out of rhythm. Mate when you want. Eat summer fruit in the middle of winter (so long as you can enslave the Southern hemisphere dwellers into indenture to the capricious whims of the Northern dwellers and vice versa). Discontinue the respect and reverence for the rhythm of natural terrestrial and cosmic cycles because clearly they don’t include wisdom that can be relevant in our automated, grandiose view of Self.
We celebrate Easter when we do because a 4th century Pope decided that we must poke a stick in the eyes of the “sinful” Jews. The Jews celebrate Passover because rabbis decided to poke a stick in the eyes of the Egyptians. Egyptians celebrate Isis and Osiris union because they decided to poke a stick in the Mesopotamians. And because we’re so busy poking each other in the metaphoric eye, we blind ourselves to the wisdom that once realized that celebrating our interactive role in the universe allowed us to duration match our social and economic interactions. Our current view of debt, risk, economic cycles, etc. are all a direct result of our failure to match our actions with the natural pace of the actions in our ecosystem. We build where we want and then lament the wind and storm. We tower above the fault lines and puzzle about the collapse of buildings. We belch smoke and noxious materials into the air and wonder why we can’t breathe and why our oceans are dying. In short, we pretend to be victims of that which we don’t include in our illusion of control while all the while decreasing our resilience by contrived social conventions.
If we wish to form a More Perfect Union, we would be well advised to begin listening to the music of the spheres – the Orphean sweeter song – and start dancing back into rhythms long forgotten. Go outside tonight and listen. It’s still singing and asking, “will you remember my night song when the Son rises?”
 Law, SP. “The regulation of menstrual cycle and its relationship to the moon.” Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1986; 65(1):45-8.
 Sakar, M and Biswas NM. “Influence of moonlight on the birth of male and female babies.” Nepal Med Coll J, 2005 June; 7(1):62-4.
Friday, March 18, 2016
O.K. I admit it. I was putting off watching The Big Short for a bunch of reasons. The first was simple. I was talking about the House of Cards financial risk before the “discovery” of the mortgage crisis portrayed in the film. In fact, when I met with the Richmond Federal Reserve in 1999, I pointed out that I had better visibility on intangible asset liens in commercial lending than banks had on pooled mortgages. The President of the Richmond Fed at the time agreed with me! While the protagonists in The Big Short were running around in 2005 and 2006 placing their bets against the market collapse, I was trying to wake people up to what was coming. To the fact that President George W. Bush’s “patriotic” plea for Americans to over-consume and use their home equity as an ATM in the wake of September 11, 2001 was a horrible idea that blended short-term consumer debt dynamics with long-term real estate debt guaranteeing structural collapse. To the fact that rating agencies admitted to not having any mechanism to measure the veracity of over 80% of the credit assets of the economy. To the fact that the U.S. economy was built on plagiarized and illegitimate intellectual property. To the fact that rating agencies were churning out ratings to sell products to investors and derelict in their fiduciary duty to measure risk. And, when the dust settled, the public lost well over $5 trillion.
The second reason was a bit more complicated. There’s an even bigger certainty on the horizon and we’re either hypnotized or near-euthanized so much that we’re pretending not to see it. Setting aside the nearly $19 trillion in national debt in the U.S. alone, there’s about $11 trillion in illiquid government associated financial products that are coming due over the next few years – social security, school loans, packaged mortgages, and depository insurance – products that are owned by retirees, ordinary citizens, and institutions and that will be subject to actual or manipulated default. According to the Social Security Administration’s own numbers, the safety net for aging and disabled Americans vanishes around 2035 and that is assuming that benefits shrink by over 12% in 2017 and premiums rise by the same amount or more! Where the GFC of 2007-2008 was a shock felt round the world, the current U.S. economic chasm is close to six times greater than the GFC. This is NOT my estimate. These are publicly available statistics. And we’re pretending that the only news worth discussing is the theater between a xenophobic cartoon and a moral chameleon.
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered." Thomas Jefferson, 1802
See, my problem with The Big Short has nothing to do with the superb writing, acting, directing and production. It is elegant and brilliant. My problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to the stories of being lied to and robbed that we have seen it as entertainment rather than tyranny. And while I’ve just come from Papua New Guinea where I’m repeatedly warned of government corruption, I look at an American economy that willfully lies to the public, willfully and negligently defrauds its citizens and it is this America that deigns to judge the corruption lubricated by U.S. and Australian dollars and Chinese yuan! We pretend that trillions of dollars of losses and bailouts are just the price of doing business but we neglect the fact that each of those losses comes at the price of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness among the rank and file. Slow bleedings, to be sure, but the body is already anemic and a financial plague is just around the corner.
Together with the remarkable producer and director of the internationally acclaimed Future Dreaming, I have commenced work on a new film that seeks to preempt the “who could have seen it coming?” refrains that reverberated around the empty shell of what used to be Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers at the end of the past decade. In the film I discuss the architecture of an economic system that is built on explicit ignorance to the all-in-consequence of our industrial and consumer behaviors and the fact that such systems have only been able to be propped up by intermittent, horribly violent military contrivances resulting in the deaths of millions. Who could have seen this coming? Well, once again, Thomas Jefferson stated that “…it is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”
Watching The Big Short reminded me that we’ve got an even more vexing challenge. In the film, there is an effort to acknowledge that the celebrations surrounding winning the bet against the American economy were occasionally tempered with the sober knowledge that economic hardship would put people out of work, would expand homelessness and poverty, would lead some to suicide, and would have generational effects that will be slow in their evolution. The fiduciary “obligation” that the fund managers had to maximize investor returns led the anonymous wealthy to curse the prognostication of fraud before the collapse and then dismissively cash in on their spoils with no regard for the lives that they’d cost after the fact. At no point does it dawn on someone that a >400% profit may mean that the public was as robbed by the opportunist short investor as they were by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Ponzi scheme. And this leads me to my own paradox.
I know that the U.S. market is well past the point of no return with respect to indebtedness and illiquid pension liabilities. I know that hundreds of public companies – many of whom have been off-shoring assets for years – have massive liabilities for securities and financial misrepresentations. My guess is that off-shoring has as much to do with known fraud as it does “tax efficiency”. I know that several countries have adopted U.S. market models only to run the risk of greater instability. Australia, for example, is drinking the Kool-Aid around venture capital and making illiquid markets part of its pension scheme without realizing that the U.S. VC model required highly nuanced tax loss harvesting, robust middle market private equity, and price collusion – none of which are suitably in place for the average Australian investor. The ECB is pretending that the quantitative easing (read Ponzi scheme) that has failed in the U.S. will somehow have a better outcome in fractious Europe. The oil rich Middle East is now realizing that its gilded age may be losing some of its glint with oil depressed and unlikely to rise soon. And Pandora’s box has had some lid slippage with the Petrobras corruption allegations in Brazil. In other words, the current system has run its course and the Bretton Woods experiment has concluded.
And I’m not alone. In his March 9, 2016 note entitled “Japanese Policy Failure Means Disaster for Us All”, John Mauldin details what he and others see in the near future with the “major economic disruption in Japan.” Citing work by Mohamed El-Erian, he details the reflexive and unchartered courses being implemented by central banks which have been using classical economic theory in a market that has not fully understood the implications of demographic shifts, productivity challenges, quantitative international trading techniques and countless other anomalies. El-Erian concludes that the, “implications go well beyond economics and finance, extending also to national politics, regional and global negotiations, and geopolitics.” He continues, “Unless we understand the nature of the disruptive forces, including tipping points and T-junctions, we will likely fall short in our reaction functions. And the more that happens, the greater the likelihood we could lose control of an orderly economic, financial, and political destiny – both for our generation and future ones.” As was the case in the turns of the 19th and 20th century, these transitions are not without their opportunistic winners. The few wealthy individuals who, in moments of crisis, can offer bailouts to governments (often to pay for wartime indebtedness) are the ones who set the tone for centuries of predatory enslavement of the general population. Only this time, the denomination of “wealth” might be a bit tricky as the mere accumulation of debt-based currencies may in fact render the “wealth” quite ephemeral and fleeting. While synthetic derivatives and swaps, agency debt, “risk-free” bonds, and the like may be proliferating once again like fungal spores in a rainforest, the arbiter of the impending dislocation will likely be those who have elected to secure control of resources and means of production. A world awash in financial instruments and hedges will likely become a barren landscape when those who have been chasing amoral yield for its own sake are exposed.
So, do I take the path – like the traders in The Big Short – and bet against the fact that you’ll never read this post or understand it if you do? Or do I work to tell a better story – one that is built on Integral Accountability where returns may not come in currencies (fiat, debt, or crypto)? The answer is that I’m choosing humanity. I’m investing my time, my creativity, and my efforts on getting into the trenches with those who want to be part of a human experiment that learns from the past and explicitly forgoes the predation on ignorance that was celebrated in the film. I may wind up with a lot less money. I may wind up with less gadgets and gizmos. And in the end, I may underestimate the long arm of fraud and corruption that will continue to fool a public through cunning illusions. Over the next several months, together with a great team of luminaries, we’re launching Future Dreaming: The Awakening which will be a series of gatherings around the world in which we’ll build new models of enterprise. I’m honored to stand with amazing colleagues who have committed to go LONG humanity! Let’s tell that story!