28 November 2008

The original, unexpurgated Debt Rattle intro

Check out The Automatic Earth today. The following piece, (minus the snarky bits) is the intro for the daily Debt Rattle. Yep, written by yours truly.
In Canada, we're already fully recovered from our Thanksgiving festivities. We wisely take a long weekend in early October to gather with family to give thanks. The weather is often very fine and the fall foliage spectacular, allowing us to escape the usual family drama with a lovely walk outdoors. If all goes well we end the weekend with a vague sense of wellbeing (if only because the family has finally gone) and the fixings for some great sandwiches. The day after Canadian Thanksgiving is called Dieting Tuesday.

And so it is that I have no practical experience of Black Friday, the day after American Thanksgiving when door-crasher specials and deep discounts entice Americans into malls to start the Christmas shopping season. Wikipedia tells me that the term Black Friday was originally used by traffic cops and bus drivers in Philadelphia because of the headaches caused by the traffic jams downtown. Only later was it used as a moniker for the day on which retailers became profitable. Neither of these definitions is what jumps to my mind when I hear the term - rather I think of the devastation caused by the mining of minerals and the production of plastic, the poor working conditions of the assemblers, the pollution caused by shipping, the energy consumed in operating the gadgets and the future landfills overflowing with toxins all as a result of the frantic consuming of the world's wealthiest people.

As we enter the sputtering last days of late capitalism, the messages from the powers that be become more and more absurd. Drill! Buy! Bail! These are the panicky cries of the masters of an unravelling economic system based on exponential growth. The Canadian prime minister promised that in an effort to stimulate the economy he will open up uranium resources to foreign companies (presumably to rip it out of the ground faster) and relax environmental regulations for oil exploration and development in the Arctic. Canadians have been hearing this type of nonsense for so long we elected him instead of running him out of town. Corporations fill our mailboxes with advertising porn enticing us to spend spend spend. And generally, as good citizens of capitalist countries, we do. We consume to the limit of our incomes and often a good deal more. We listen to politicians explaining how the only solution is to give our grandchildren's money to bloated half-dead corporations and we mutter but we don't mutiny.

According to the bleating heads, now is a good time to buy a brand new V8 Dodge Charger. Chrysler is offering employee pricing and a major Canadian bank (the soundest banks in the world we're told) will provide 0% financing for 84 months. I'm astonished at the absurdity of this. It makes sense for Chrysler to try to unload these ugly, impractical symbols of excess, and that is where the sense ends. Even if I was a middle aged guy who hasn't achieved closure on some high school trauma and I thought owning one of these powerful gas guzzlers would make me whole, I would surely think twice about dropping my hard earned after-tax dollars on a car made by a near-bankrupt company notorious for producing unreliable vehicles. If I could, through denial or Prozac, get over that hurdle, I could probably also be convinced to avail myself of the opportunity to be indebted to RBC for the next seven years. If I was a loan officer at the bank though, I would automatically deny any applicant for a seven year loan on a Dodge Charger by simple virtue of the fact that to even consider such a thing is indicative of such poor judgment I wouldn't take the risk. Perhaps if I was a loan officer who happens to read TAE from time to time, I might take into consideration that the value of this car might rise from zero to something in year 3 or so of the loan as it is pressed into service as shelter for our unfortunate mid-life crisis and what's left of his family.

We just held a party using our children's cheap fuel, deep topsoil, abundant forests and clean water behaving like crack addicts frantically sampling every white speck, looking for more nature to keep the party going. We let ourselves be abused and lied to by governments and corporations because we didn't want to acknowledge that our way of life couldn't be sustained. And so we find ourselves still in the bar, minutes from closing time. We know the lights will come on and in the greenish glare, even in our impaired state, we'll recognize the ugly truth that we've wasted a lot of time and resources, hurt a lot of people and there's not a chance in hell of spending the rest of the night with someone remotely attractive. And even if we could afford the gas for our new Dodge Charger, we're too drunk to drive it home.

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