When I think about dyed-in-the-wool, dystopian End-of-the-Worlders, MarketWatch’s Paul Farrell does not come to mind. I think of Club Orlov and its Honorary Members, people like Jim Kunstler or others in the Club who I have talked to in the past.

Eschatology has a long and inglorious history.

  1. a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind
  2. a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment

False forecasts of The End have been made over & over again throughout human history. Doomers will tell you that they do not anticipate the End of the World per se. They foresee our demise as the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI). Visions differ but in reality, this has already occurred. Now we’re simply working out the details of our dissolution. Does the world end with a bang or whimper? T.S. Elliot judged that The End is not so exciting as we might think, or even wish for—it’s just a long, slow winding down of things. It will likely take a long time for American Civilization to come grinding to a halt.

Doom prophesy can be profitable, and it has even been suggested to me that I hit the lecture circuit in so far as I desperately need an income. But I am an Ambivalent Doomer. Instead of Fire & Brimstone, my sermons would be full of phrases like “on the other hand” or “with uncertainty, this disaster is more likely than not” and so on. The future is unknowable. I am an adherent of Yogi Berra, one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, who memorably said “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

On the other hand, this blog not called Decline of the Empire for nothing. We document human folly, greed and predation during our Fall from grace. Historian Arnold Toynbee said that Civilizations die from suicide, not murder. That’s true of the American Empire as well. And the closer you are to the end of the world as we have known it, the more foolish, rapacious behavior you get. I will never run out of stuff to write about.

Into this Pit of Despair steps MarketWatch’s Paul Farrell with his 20 reasons Global Debt Time Bomb explodes soon: Which trigger will ignite the Great Depression II?

Yes, 20. And yes, any one can destroy your retirement because all 20 are inexorably linked, a house-of-cards, a circular firing squad destined to self-destruct, triggering the third great Wall Street meltdown of the 21st century, igniting the Great Depression II that George W. Bush, Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson and now President Obama have simply delayed with their endless knee-jerk, debt-laden wars, stimulus bonanzas and bailouts.

Wow, what an epic Hollywood blockbuster this will make: You know the drama, can’t miss the warnings. The financial press is flooding us with plot lines … a Forbes cover story focuses on a “Global Debt Bomb: How It Could Wreck Your Life” … Leaders at the World Economic Forum on Swiss Mt. Davos fear another global meltdown will trigger mass rebellions … The Economist calls the plot a “Global Asset Bubble,” with cheap money fast driving up asset prices…

But the financial press navigates in a fog. There’s not just one, but many triggers, all linked in a lethal network. We’ve reported on it for years. Now you tell us: What triggers this firestorm?

I can’t discuss all 20 reasons why you should kill yourself now, but I will list a few of my personal favorites. See Farrell’s article for the complete list.

#1 Federal Budget Deficit Bomb. The Bush/Cheney wars pushed America deep into a debt hole. Federal debt limit was just raised almost 100% with Obama’s 2010 budget, to $14.3 trillion vs. $7.8 trillion in 2005. The Congressional Budget Office predicts future deficits around 4% through 2020. Get it? America’s debt at 84% of GDP will soon pass that toxic 90% trigger point.

#5 Global Real Estate Bomb. Dubai Tower, new “world’s tallest building” is empty. Business Week warns that China’s housing collapse could be worse than America’s. Plus the U.S. commercial real estate bubble is now $1.7 trillion, a “ticking time bomb” bloating 25% of bank balance sheets.

#6 Peak Oil and the Population Bomb. China and India each need 500 new cities. The United Nations estimates world population exploding 50% from 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050: Three billion more humans demanding more automobiles, exhausting more resources to feed their version of the gas-guzzling “America Dream.”

#12 Consumer Debt Bomb. Americans are still living beyond their means. Even with a downturn, consumer debt rose from about $2.3 to $2.5 trillion. Fat Cat Bankers love it — yes [they] love making matters worse by gouging cardholders and mortgagees, blocking help in foreclosures and bankruptcies.

#17 Insatiable Washington Lobbyists Bombs. Paulson, Goldman, Geithner, Morgan and Wall Street banks, through their lobbyists and former employees working inside now have absolute power over government spending. Democracy and voters are now irrelevant in America’s new corporate-socialism.

#19 Polarized partisanship increasing. Every day both parties show zero interest in cooperating for the public good. Instead they fight viciously, resisting everything and anything proposed by opponents. Only goal: Score political points, make the other side look bad.

It’s hard to argue with any of this. I particularly liked Farrell’s remarks at the end.

Historians and behavioral economists tell us most investors are blind optimists. Investors cannot see bubbles from inside their bubble. Nor Fat Cat Bankers from inside their mega-bonus-bubble. Nor politicians from inside the beltway bubble.

Why? The optimist’s brain filters out bad news. They know their dreams of prosperity will come true. Then, when they finally do see that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train, it’s always too late.

Well said, Paul. I too have said this kind of thing many, many times in the past. It is a variation on what I call friedmanism, as in vacuous New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Tom’s great success attests to his utterly unsubstantial outlook on life. The World Is Flat—apparently, Tom can only think in 2 dimensions. The optimist’s brain filters out bad news.


“America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed,
and it can’t be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a
multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on
independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking
culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt
bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that
are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global
   —Tom Friedman, from The Secret From Our Sauce, March 7, 2004

Wow, Tom was really feeling it when he wrote that. Bombs away!