The Sign of the Four: A Short List of Sizable Problems

Politics Lists The World
The Sign of the Four: A Short List of Sizable Problems

Worried about Trump? So is half the country! But don’t worry, there are plenty other lurking terrors out there waiting to get you. Why, any of those might kill you as you sleep, or right now, as you’re reading this. Or maybe you’re the cause of it.

I’m kidding of course. Maybe. I’m going to keep an eye on you, regardless. That said, I know how some of you roll. And a goodly portion of that roll is spent on the election. Believe me, I understand how that goes, since it’s my bread and butter, as well as everything else I’ve ever eaten.

Aside from the Weird Twitter and politics, I have no other earthly interests. Breathing has faded away to a secondary pleb concern for yours truly, and many moons ago, I completely eliminated my need for sleep through a combination of keto diets and proprietary Silicon Valley heavy water technology.

With all of my free time, and a life whose dreams are fed mostly but not exclusively by the “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Caroline in the City,” I have plenty of watchfulness to spread around. Now, as a result, I write for this magazine, I write for myself, and most of all, I write for you, the people, who I am informed are of a number more than ten, and less than twenty trillion. If you have the fatigues and heavy shakes brought on by the election, I remind you, there are plenty of other things to be concerned about:

1. People are Still Dying of Opiate Addiction

About half a million people are dead thanks to the opioid epidemic. One of the authors of the original Case-Deaton study on opioid mortality, Dr. Deaton, pointed out that there are no ribbons or awareness for this. Populations that suffer from epidemics are always vulnerable: that’s how they get to be epidemics. However, the victims here are mostly white, non-coastal, middle-aged Americans, members of the working class, and as such are largely invisible to the sensitivities of the media.

The die-off is due largely to the arrival of OxyContin. We the good people of these United States guzzle eighty percent of the globe’s opioid drugs. The New Yorker stated that the white middle-aged mortality curve shot up by a factor of six between ‘99 and 2013, after two decades of decline. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer, made a killing in both senses of the word. So if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t die from pain pill overdose, you might seriously consider investing money in their company.

2. The World’s Largest Democracy, India, is Entering One of Its Regular Bits of Madness.

In early September, Indians staged one of the largest general strikes in all of human history, to protest changes in the public sector by the mandarins in Congress. That was then, and it hasn’t gotten better since. Currently, Prime Minister Modi’s government in India is undergoing a weird dance with its rupees. India has a problem with black money, which is the term for hidden assets. Another way of saying it: there’s a lot of cash that Indian people haven’t paid taxes on. Rough guestimates give an estimated figure of $1.06 trillion-worth, probably in Switzerland and other Panama Papers-approved locales around the glove. The government of India says the amount is about half that, $500 billion. So, Modi declared that banknotes of 500 or 1000 rupees would no longer be legal tender. Demonetization, they call it.

You can imagine the results: Right now there’s a significant shortage of lucre to pass around. Everyone is showing behavior which would certainly not fly in Mrs. Astor’s ballroom but is utterly justified by the multiple-lane policy pileup on the ground.

This has not been particularly swell for the poorest in India, since the huge majority of the subcontinent’s economy happens on a cash-by-cash basis, much as Elvis’ circle operated during the latter years.

Unlike Elvis, India cannot wait around to die, and must function as a living country. The farther down a citizen is, the more crucial cash is to your day-to-day life. In 2014, slightly less than half of Indians had bank accounts at all, and even the Indians who do have such luxuries receive their wages in money. If you’ve been seeing people in long lines at ATMs, that’s what’s happening.

The current plan, I assume, is to let the impoverished fend for themselves, which, when added to desperation, has always worked out so well for governments in the past. One man set himself on fire. No telling if that sorted everything out.

3. The World’s Richest Democracy, America, is Continuing in its Ongoing Stream of Madness

Despite our problems at home, the American government is doing its best impression of a declining imperial power. What’s weird is that it’s less America failing and more the rest of the world on the rise. Still, it’s hard to tell the different in Washington. This means a round of recriminations, confusions, loathsome pacts, vile conspiracies, and other weird responses from our confused giant of a country.

The other oddity in the mix: whereas Britain and its empire died hard—desperately grasping onto the last, tea-stained shreds—America’s imperium is a different pattern altogether: a combination of honest-to-God Beltway delusion and half-assedness of the most sublime kind, as if the foreign policy of America consisted of a man part-belligerently drunk and part insecure. Attempting awkward, graspy regime change in vulnerable parts of the world (Syria, Egypt, not to mention our fine work in Iraq and Libya) alongside needless and profligate displays of military showoff along the Russian border, does not a foreign policy make.

We hear constant talk from clueless Beltway deficit hawks about how we can’t afford this or that program, ignoring that the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee built the British social state during a period of absolute grinding poverty in the U.K. after the Second World War. Then the same parties blithely talk about the absolute necessity to preserve the continent-spanning might of the American brand, sure as if they were repeating rhyming passages from an old hymnal, not caring a whit for the cost or our children’s inheritance of it. They only care that the great power we have over the lives of other people be continued. Like with any power.

4. The Economy Is Still Gruesome For Most Americans

Due to the insufficient stimulus package, nobody powerful caring about wage stagnation, and all of the other problems which bedevil the laboring section of our country, most of the working folks in our land don’t give a trilateral hoot in hell when Chuck Todd or Tuck Chodd or any other made-up anagrams of that name tell them that the economy is raking up heaps of good graciousness, that Obama should be more popular, or that it’s good for Wall Street. The people on the top have forgotten the most important moral rule of life: to hell with Wall Street.

More than that, as several commenters have pointed out, this is neither a recovery nor a recession. Increased debt moves up after every recovery. This would even be the case even if we had actual Keynesian spending (the government putting money into the economy) instead of the anemic version we have now.

Banks used to do boring business way back when, and that’s what small banks, for the most part, still do. Not so with the big banks, that run the country. They’re still playing fast and loose with the asset structure of business world. But they can’t do anything if the base does poorly. And that’s the problem. The average family, upon which all of this stands, cannot afford to buy enough products to run the economy. Why? Because nobody is hiring. Why aren’t they hiring? Because nobody is buying.

In fact, the powers that be in every economy do not exist to help the people. They are there to aid the banks. The banks are their client. This is why when you hear of the economy rebounding, it’s always of how Citigroup or Bank of America recovered and posted record growth. It’s never that a steel mill reopened in Indiana, the kind of boon that actually matters. The central bankers of this country are there to sell debt to people. It is their product.

When bankers had slightly more sense—not much more, but a little—they understood this. But they need to indebt the American people for their own greed to live. Getting outside of North America for a second, there will be a reckoning of some kind with debt in Europe. Or it’ll be Greece 2.0, where the nation is forced to start carving itself up so the profit sector can live. Then we’ll see fireworks, of which the recent right-populism is only a slim, dainty prologue.

And so there you go! Four tales, from a turning world. There a seven billion stories here in Earth, also called the Universe’s Greatest Planet, also called Sweet Sweet Badass planet, also known as America’s planet, also sometimes called “The Planet with a Thousand Law and Order Offshoots.” We have been known by all of these titles, and more. During the five years from now until this place falls into the sun, let’s work to make it better than before.

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