Monday, December 31, 2007
I shudder to imagine how things will play out now as we turn the corner into 2008. Not to put too fine a point on it, but my little walnut brain can't imagine any scenario in which the US economy doesn't end up on a gurney in history's emergency room. It's not necessary to rehash the particulars of the Greenspan bubble-blowing disaster. The outcome is what concerns us. The web cables have been blazing for months with arguments as to what form the workout will take. There's little disagreement about the fundamentals at the housing end of things. The housing market is in a death spiral. Eventually, the median price of a house will have to fall back to the median income, and it has a very long way to go, perhaps 50 percent. Until that happens, houses will be generally unsellable. At the same time, of course, an anxious finance sector will be offering fewer mortgages and on much more rigorous terms, so there will be far fewer qualified buyers even for distress sales. And the median income itself may soon not be what it has been. The whole equation has changed.
But to return to my point, something like 40 percent of all new jobs after the year 2000 were created in the final burst of suburban expansion -- everything from the excavators to the framers to the sheet-rockers, and then the providers of granite countertops, the sellers of appliances and furnishings, and cars to service the far-out new subdivisions, and so on. This is the end, therefore, not only of the production "home-builders," but perhaps everything from Crate and Barrel to WalMart, too, eventually.
Others have said (and I concur) that 2008 will be the year that the issue of Peak Oil not only takes stage in the forefront of American politics, but pushes global warming aside as the most immediate threat to the "modern" way-of-life. There is every reason to believe that the world has arrived at its all-time oil production peak -- and some statisticians would even pin-point the exact moment as July 2006. Since then a few new and crucial story-lines have emerged to allow us to understand what is happening out there on the world oil scene.
In any case, whoever ends up in the oval office will preside over one king-hell of a clusterfuck. In the immortal words of TV's erstwhile "Mr. T," I pity da fool who gets elected into this mess. There will be a whole continent full of bankrupt, re-poed, and idle former WalMart shoppers, many of them with half of their skin tattooed and many of that bunch all revved up to "roll heavy and gun up" against the folks who screwed them.
Which leads me to my penultimate observation of the moment: 2008 will be the year that celebrity wealth goes into hiding. A land full of people crying into their foreclosure notices will take a dim view of the Donald Trumps and P. Diddys luxuriating out there and may come looking for scalps -- though in the case of Mr. Trump they'll be sorry they woke up the wolverine that lives on his head. Basically, though, I'm not kidding. Conspicuous displays of wealth will be so "out" that Mr. Diddy might take to club-hopping in a 1999 Mazda. Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton may have to double-up living in a minuteman missile silo to keep the angry mobs of fans-turned-vengeful-berserkers away.