For whom the bell tolls

May 6, 2016

“This is going to be a column of unremitting doom and gloom, as befits the world in the first decade of the 21st century.”

 

That was what I promised — in writing! — the editors of the Jerusalem Post when, in November 2003, this column was launched. Their successors have now blown the whistle on it, after twelve and a half years, I have asked for, and received, the opportunity to make a few valedictory comments.

 

First up, my assessment of where the world was going was correct, although things turned out much worse than I had feared– and that was just in the first decade of the century. As we round the half-way mark in the second decade, both the degree of deterioration and the rate of decline are way beyond anything imaginable back in 2003. I have endeavored to keep abreast of the key trends, so that simply by sticking to the facts I have been able — nay, obliged — to adhere to the initial commitment of “unremitting doom and gloom”.

 

However, the sad and horrific reality of 2016 is that what was considered doom and gloom ten years ago, would have people queueing up to receive today, if only it was available. To give one simple example: in 2003, or 2006 — or even in 2009 — it would have been impossible to write that large pension funds in the main developed economies, such as the US and UK, were facing, or even threatened with, imminent bankruptcy and that most people below retirement age would not get anything approaching their full pensions. Yet in the last few weeks, major pension funds in both America and Britain have declared themselves insolvent — and they are the canaries in the coal mine of the wider pension sector.

 

Insolvent pension funds

 

This leads directly to the most fundamental issue of all, the one which makes last decade’s gloom into light and joy by this decade’s standards. That pension funds can became insolvent is possible at the technical level of actuarial and financial data and projections. That this is the direct result of the monetary policies pursued by all the world’s leading central banks is true and hence possible, although it is a reality that most people born and educated in the 20th century find very difficult to grasp.

 

But what seems totally impossible to comprehend — yet is nonetheless true — is that the general public does not respond to reports of its own financial evisceration. A possible explanation is that the masses have been reduced to passive fatalism by relentless dumbing down through exposure to mindless media and the mind-numbing noise emerging from them. But whatever the explanation, it now appears that the masses are finally waking up to what has been done to them — hence the phenomena of Trump, Sanders, Farage and the emerging populist/ nativist wave across the European continent.

 

That Europe is imploding is not surprising — the failure of the EU and the coming demise of Europe became clear to me during the recession of 2001-03 and the riots it spawned in France, Holland and Belgium. If anything, it is the delay in the emergence of a nativist backlash that is surprising — but that is merely further evidence that it is too late to save (formerly-)Christian Europe, although not too late for it to hasten its own destruction in a spiral of civil and intra-country violence.

 

Polarized America

 

Where I was completely wrong, to my ongoing horror and consternation, was about America. In 2003, and even as late as 2009, I believed that the Americans, the elites and the people, had it in them to shake off their various self-imposed problems and pull their country back together. In fact, the polarization has gotten far worse, so that it is plain to even the most casual observer that both Bush Jnr and Obama, both the Republicans and the Democrats, both the elite and the underclass, have contributed equally to drive the United States into bankruptcy, emasculate it as a global hegemon and destroy its unique socio-political cohesion.

 

No less sad, in its own way, but perhaps more predictable, is the emerging tragedy of China. The three decades of unprecedented achievement that began with the end of Maoist madness in the late 1970s, have given way to an alternative madness of state capitalism run amok, that has poisoned the air and ground, wasted resources on a scale unseen in human history and, along the way, gutted the prospect of a “Chinese century”. Instead, China is set to follow Japan into prolonged and seemingly inexorable demographic decline — but without the social cohesion and cultural stability that is enabling Japan to fade gracefully from the scene.

 

Marching to hell

 

The fate of this column has therefore been to chronicle and comment on the global political economy as it marches determinedly to hell. In particular, it has sought to draw attention to the extent — revealed since the crash of 2008 and now pretty fully documented — of the rot within the world’s financial system and to urge readers to prepare themselves for that system’s now-inevitable collapse.

 

Along the way, I devoted some — but, with hindsight, too few — columns to one of the few countries that proved able to buck most of the negative and disastrous trends at work around the world over the last decade. I refer to the Zionist entity established, through the expenditure of much blood, sweat, tears and toil, as well as money, on the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean. The extraordinary and almost unique success of Israel since 2003 will be the focus of next week’s column

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